Archives For giving

By Nate Adams

MIO Logo 500pxLast Saturday I received three voicemail messages from the same number. I suspected it was a mistake or a telemarketer, because the number wasn’t familiar, and I recognized the area code as being from out of state.

Indeed, the first message sounded like an elderly lady, who simply apologized for possibly dialing the wrong number. But in the second and third messages, the same lady said that she was sorry for bothering me again, but she was trying to reach the “Illinois Baptist Convention.” She asked if I could call her back and at least let her know if she had reached the right number.

Though it was a Saturday evening, and I couldn’t imagine what this lady might need, the frequency and urgency of her messages led me to call her back. It was then that I met Miss Myra, a 95-year-old grandmother from Kentucky.

After a few minutes of conversation, I learned several things about Miss Myra. She had just moved into a new assisted living facility a month earlier. She was nearly blind due to macular degeneration. And years ago, she had served for a while on the board of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. That’s how she knew to call me.

But I learned all those things after Miss Myra told me the primary reason for her call. Her grandson Ben had recently moved to Chicago, and she was concerned that he wasn’t attending church in that new, big city. His parents had raised him in a different denomination, she said, but he hadn’t seemed to stay connected with that church. And she didn’t know anyone to call there anyway. But she knew Southern Baptists, and she knew that if she called “the state convention office,” someone there would help her find a nearby church for her grandson. And she knew that church would be Bible-believing and gospel-centered.

I probably receive 3-4 calls a year like Miss Myra’s, often from someone in the South whose family member or friend has moved to Illinois, usually the Chicago area. They frequently are afraid that Southern Baptist churches “up there” are few or non-existent, and that the city is huge, and probably dangerous.

With Ben’s address, I was able to go to our online database and quickly find several churches within a few miles of where he lived. I did need to filter the options, because some of the IBSA churches nearest him were Spanish-speaking, or Russian, or Vietnamese. After all, Chicago is an international mission field. But a large-print letter went out to Miss Myra the following Monday, with contact information for six churches and pastors, and my offer to contact them personally if she or Ben would like me to do that.

The calls and e-mails and letters I receive like that one from Miss Myra remind me why IBSA continuously plants churches, especially in population centers like Chicago. I didn’t need to find a Chinese, or Romanian, or Korean church this time. But I could have.

Miss Myra’s call also reminds me why we ask churches to collect a Mission Illinois Offering each year, and why we ask Illinois Baptist church members to give generously. That annual offering helps us plant new churches in places like Chicago, or in one of the 22 Illinois counties that still have one, or zero, Baptist churches.

At one point in our conversation, Miss Myra said to me, “You know, I’m 95 and almost blind. I can’t do much. But I can do this.” I will remember her words when I give my Mission Illinois Offering through my church this year. I hope you will too.

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

Leaning into the challenge

ib2newseditor —  February 12, 2018

Amid decline, churches called to new commitments

Pioneering Spirit

Throughout 2018, Southern Baptist churches in Illinois are invited to accept challenges in four key areas: evangelism, church planting, missions giving, and leadership development.

The challenges, focused on the “pioneering spirit” needed to advance the gospel among more than 8 million lost people in Illinois, were laid out last November at the Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Their urgency was reinforced by new data based on the 2017 Annual Church Profile reports completed by 95% of IBSA churches.

“The 2017 ACP data from IBSA churches tells us that, while some churches are thriving, many are struggling,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “For example, about 40% of IBSA churches didn’t report a baptism in 2017. And the sum total of information from all churches shows flat or steadily declining dynamics in many key indicators, including baptisms, worship attendance, Bible study participation, and church planting.

“This doesn’t do justice to the many bright spots where effective ministry and growth is happening, but it does give an overall picture.”

In 2017, IBSA churches baptized 3,441 people, a 13% decrease from last year’s total of 3,953. Other measurements also were down, including professions of faith, church membership, and missions giving. Giving through the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program totaled $5,924,029 in 2017, compared to $6,032,407 the previous year.

A highlight of 2017 was growth in the area of missions participation, as 21,607 people engaged their Acts 1:8 mission fields through projects and partnerships.

“It was studying last year’s ACP numbers, and really the last several years’, that led us to the important theme for the 2017 IBSA Annual Meeting,” Adams said. “Advancing the gospel through Baptist churches in Illinois has, and always will, require a ‘Pioneering Spirit.’ That means continuously engaging new people, developing new leaders, making new sacrifices, and going new places with the gospel.

“Churches that are not intentionally and effectively reaching out into their communities with a pioneering, missionary spirit, face inevitable decline.”

The lower numbers in Illinois reflect national trends, according to the most recent data available. (National ACP data for the previous year is released in the summer, prior to the annual Southern Baptist Convention.) In 2016, baptisms in SBC churches decreased by 4.9% from the previous year, and worship attendance declined 6.8%.

“I would encourage any church that is struggling or simply desiring assistance to invite IBSA, its local association, or perhaps another like-minded church to come alongside and help,” Adams said. “Often another trusted leader’s perspective can make all the difference, along with the experience and resources that others can bring.

“For our part, IBSA is eager to bring training, consulting, and resources in any of these areas, and to any IBSA church. That’s why we’re here, and we really want to help.”

The power of ‘one’
A decline in baptisms over the past decade is behind this spring’s “One GRAND Sunday” emphasis, which calls IBSA churches to participate in baptizing at least 1,000 people on April 8, the Sunday after Easter.

Last year, 352 IBSA churches reported zero baptisms. The churches that did report baptisms had an average of 6.4 baptisms per church.

The ‘GRAND’ goal is lofty, IBSA’s Evangelism Director Pat Pajak has acknowledged, particularly amid the current downward trend. But he’s urging church members to focus on the “one” part of the challenge, and to pray for one person to come to Christ and be baptized. That idea was recently echoed by prayer leader Phil Miglioratti.

“And as my ‘one’ is added to your ‘one’…as their church’s ‘one’ is matched by that church’s ‘one’…as a Sunday class prays for ‘one’ and is joined by a fellowship group asking for ‘one’…a youth group in a southern association, a seniors’ class in the center of the state, a planting team up north, a children’s ministry along the eastern border, and a WMU along the western border, each claiming, petitioning, pleading for ‘one’…one plus one equals two. But in God’s mathematics, ‘one’ plus ‘one’ times prayer could equal ‘One GRAND Sunday!’

“Even the smallest church among us can ask in faith for ‘one,’” Miglioratti said.

Sign up for the “Pioneering Spirit” challenge at pioneeringspirit.org. Register for One GRAND Sunday at IBSA.org/Evangelism.

IMG_4145 (1)

A log cabin stood in the exhibit hall at the 2017 IBSA Annual Meeting, surrounded by displays showing the current challenges of taking the gospel to people in Illinois.

Decatur, Ill. | Illinois Baptists were urged to remember their pioneering ancestors as they take the gospel to the more than 8 million people in the state who don’t know Christ.

One year before Illinois’ bicentennial celebration, the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association focused on “Pioneering Spirit” and asked churches to make four commitments: go new places, engage new people, make new sacrifices, and develop new leaders.

Kevin Carrothers web“We can’t be satisfied with the status quo, because the status quo is decline,” said IBSA President Kevin Carrothers (left) during his president’s message. The commitments are designed to help churches on the “uphill climb” to get the gospel to more people.

Preaching from the book of Numbers, Carrothers said no one remembers the names of the naysaying Israelites who didn’t want to go into the Promised Land. Instead, the real legacy of pioneering spirit was left by Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who trusted God to provide.

“They recognized the will of God was more important to obey than the whims and the desire of men, even if the majority won,” Carrothers said.

During a Wednesday evening worship service, church leaders put commitment cards on the altar—a symbol of their decision to take the gospel to new places, or to engage new people with the Good News, or to make new sacrifices of their resources, or to invest in new ways in the next generation of pastors, church planters, and missionaries.

The urgent need to get the gospel to more people was a driving theme of the meeting and Pastors’ Conference that preceded it, which started two days after a mass shooting at a Texas church. Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines was slated to speak during both the Pastors’ Conference and Annual Meeting, but instead traveled to Sutherland Springs, Texas, to minister to the church that lost 26 people in the attack.

Tom Hufty webTom Hufty (right), pastor of First Baptist Church, Maryville, Ill., filled in for Gaines at the Annual Meeting, outlining the 8-year journey his church has been on since Pastor Fred Winters was shot and killed in his pulpit in March of 2009.

“These tragedies remind us there’s an urgency to share the gospel,” Hufty said. The pastor told meeting attenders he remembers exactly where he was and what he thought when he heard the news about Winters: What must it be like to have been in that building that day, and how difficult it would be to lead the church through the aftermath.

“Even in that shape,” Hufty said, speaking of churches that have endured tragedy, “the church is still the heartthrob of the bridegroom”–of Christ. Ministry isn’t rocket science, Hufty said. “It’s loving God. It’s loving people. It’s making disciples.”

Sammy Simmons webIn the meeting’s final session Thursday morning, Pastor Sammy Simmons (right) offered encouragement for those who are weary from a difficult season of life and ministry. Rely on the Lord, said the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton. And keep taking bold steps for the sake of the gospel.

“The conditions are too rough, the lostness is too great, for us to continue to do business as normal,” Simmons preached. “The cause of the gospel causes us to make bold sacrifices for King Jesus.

“I’m all in for this pioneering spirit. Oh, how much our church needs it. Oh, how much I need it. Oh, how much our state needs it.”

Offering Day

ib2newseditor —  September 18, 2016

Mission Illinois Offering  Week of Prayer Day 8

MIO-box-smallToday many churches across the state will collect the Mission Illinois Offering. With a goal of $475,000, the ministries in this prayer guide depend on faithful giving in order to continue reaching people for Christ. The Mission Illinois Offering is the most direct channel through which Illinois Baptists can fund mission work close to home and really invest in the things important to us here.

Mission Illinois encourages the work of local congregations, is built on solid Baptist doctrine, and helps share Christ in every setting where IBSA missionaries serve. Missions giving through this offering helps equip and mobilize people to reach our specific mission field—the lost and unreached people in Illinois.

Pray for IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams and all the missionaries and staff of IBSA. Pray for generous giving during your own church’s offering for state missions.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering

Watch Nate Adams’ video, “Turn on the light.”

The BriefingStates debate religious liberty protections
Within the last 24 months, state legislators have introduced almost 100 (and counting) “targeted laws”—legislation designed to give legal cover to business owners, religious schools, and ministries that affirm the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.

US to decide if Christians face genocide from ISIS
For two years, ISIS has been terrorizing Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq. March 17 Secretary of State John Kerry will have to tell Congress whether the United States will officially label ISIS’ actions a “genocide.”

ERLC, IMB urge prayer for refugees March 15
The March 15 focus of the campaign — #PrayForRefugees — comes on the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities in the Middle Eastern country. The ERLC and its partners are calling for churches, small groups, Christian organizations, families and individuals to pray for the more than 13.5 million Syrians who need humanitarian assistance as a result of the conflict.

Voters don’t care about candidates’ generosity
Americans contributed $358 billion to charity in 2014, according to Giving USA. How much did each current presidential candidate contribute to that record-setting sum? The candidates, for the most part, are not telling, and pollsters, the media, and voters are not asking.

Workplaces get chaplains
A number of companies have hired spiritual leaders to serve on their staffs. Though slightly less trendy than nap rooms and yoga classes, workplace chaplaincies are another attempt to make workers more productive by catering to their “whole” selves.

Sources: WORLD Magazine, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, The Atlantic, World Magazine

How is tithing like football?The numbers may be surprising. A people who claim generous giving as a way of life, with the biblical standard of 10% as their benchmark, give only about 3% of their income to charitable causes, including their local church.

And of evangelicals, only

12% qualify as tithers, giving 10% or more of their income to their church (or other organizations), according to researcher George Barna.

So, what’s the disconnect? We talk about tithing. We teach tithing. But many believers don’t tithe. Why?

And here’s a better question: What’s at stake if we don’t give generously?

First and ten

The play is complete, the ball is down, but the purpose of the next play is unclear. If the football has been moved 10 yards, it’s a first down and the offense gets to start counting its march downfield from its new vantage point. If not, the play could be the last, for now. Ground gained could be lost.

So the chain gang comes in from the sidelines to measure the advance of the ball. Was it 10? Is the offense positioned to start another advance?

Similarly, in ministry, gospel advance is often determined by the resources available to move the mission forward. And month after month, we call in the chain gang to measure our progress financially.

Sometimes we pass the line.

Often we fall short.

At issue is how we teach people to give, and how we budget based on those expectations.

Many evangelicals have a firm commitment to tithing as a New Testament command. Tithing is commanded in the Old Testament. In fact, multiple tithes are collected from the Israelites to support the priests, the temple, and the poor.

It is the prophet Malachi who puts the sharpest point on the one-tenth rule: “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!….By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions. You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are still robbing Me. Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way,” says the Lord of Hosts (Mal. 3:8-10, HCSB).

When Jesus speaks about giving 400 years after Malachi, the tenth is assumed (Matt. 23:23). But Jesus, criticizing the legalistic actions of the Pharisees, expresses concern about the heart in giving. And Paul prescribes giving that is compassionate, generous, systematic, and regular (1 Cor. 16:1-2).

Some would argue that the tithe is still in place for New Testament believers, that it is still a command. Others contend that, free from Law, the tithe becomes a benchmark for believers who choose to give, and that the command is instead generosity.

Call it obedience

Former Illinois pastor Rick Ezell frames tithing as an act of obedience. “If you are tithing, you are being obedient to God’s instructions. But remember that tithing has always been the floor—the place to begin, not the ceiling—the place to end, of giving to God’s work.”

In a recent devotional for his South Carolina congregation, Ezell advised taking steps to correct faulty giving patterns. “If you are not tithing, perhaps it is because of poor money management. Many believers don’t tithe not because they don’t want to, but due to their current economic situation and spending habits. Maybe you need to spend some time examining your expenses and evaluating your priorities.”

“I am very direct about preaching and teaching on generous giving,” said Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon. He holds up the tithe as the standard. “I have tithed and beyond all of my life and this is extremely valuable to my spiritual life. I preach on the importance of a generous life.

“Generous giving (tithing and beyond) is one of our expectations of members of FBCO. And generous giving is one of the great joys of my life.”

For Bryan Price, pastor of Love Fellowship Baptist Church in Romeoville, the tithe offers clarity. “For me, the idea of tithing gives a better guideline for people, gives a benchmark,” Price said. “Focusing on giving (rather than tithing specifically), that benchmark was missing.”

Both Munton and Price preach regularly on giving. Munton leads an annual stewardship emphasis. And Price returned to a financial series after a two-year break when he was encouraged by church leaders to address the issue again.

“Having discussion with our elders, I asked our Sunday school to join me (in a stewardship emphasis). Price admits he feels some tension when preaching on giving. “You don’t want to come across trying to beat people over the head about money,” he said, but “we made a concerted effort, and it proved beneficial.”

Especially among younger people. “You would think people would be familiar with tithing, but we have younger people coming up and newly marrieds. They’re hearing these things for the first time really.”

And the results? “We have definitely seen an increase in giving in the past several months,” Price said.

The head of an organization called Generous Giving, Brian Kluth, says pastors can’t be shy about teaching on money. “We need to learn to be open-handed people in a tight-fisted world.” Kluth had considerable success as a pastor leading his Colorado congregation in giving. “Every time you give to the Lord, you are declaring who your source is, who your help is,” Kluth said.

In a recent blog post on tithing, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd warned against greed as the enemy of generosity: “Somehow we must grow in our faith enough to understand that when we do not give biblically by both tithing and practicing generosity, we are not walking in godliness.”

But, he admits, it will take support from the pews to overcome reticence to address money issues. “Lead the way laypeople, encouraging your pastor to preach on tithing and generosity. Encourage and defend him both privately and publicly,” Floyd wrote.

Floyd’s comments come as the SBC strains to rebound in Cooperative Program giving to missions, and to answer long-term questions about funding for SBC missions on all fronts. The potential for gospel advance would be almost unimaginable, if the biblical standards for generosity were heeded.

What if we all tithed?

Empty Tomb, Inc., a Champaign-based research firm, asked this question when average giving by church members was at its lowest point in their annual surveys (2.46% in 2008): What if all givers tithed? The researchers projected that if every church member in the U.S. gave 10% rather than the average 3%, the additional amount available for kingdom work would be $172-Billion.

Empty Tomb speculated, “If those members had specified that 60% of their increased giving were to be given to international missions, there would have been an additional $103-Billion available for the international work of the church. That would have left an additional $34-Billion for domestic missions, including poverty conditions in the U.S., and this all on top of our current church activities.”

Meanwhile, the ball moves ahead in fit and starts, while the measuring gang rattles the chains on the sidelines.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist where this article first appeared in the September 21 issue. Read the Illinois Baptist online now.

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.