Archives For Gospel

The power of one

ib2newseditor —  February 13, 2017

red leaves church steeple

This is a time of year when we at IBSA do a lot of evaluating, not only of our staff’s efforts, but also of the overall health dynamics of churches. An outstanding 95% of IBSA churches completed annual church profile reports for 2016, and this gives us a wealth of information to study.

Like every year, some churches thrived last year and others struggled, so it’s possible to overgeneralize. But looking at the broad stroke data for 964 churches and missions (up seven from the previous year), it’s reasonable to say that some ministry areas such as leadership development and Sunday School participation were up, while others such as church planting and missions giving were down, at least compared to the previous year.

Of all the “down” areas, though, none concern me more than our churches’ overall baptism number, which dropped more than 11% in 2016, to 3,953. The number of churches reporting zero baptisms increased by over 10%, to 352, meaning that more than a third of IBSA churches did not baptize anyone last year.

Just one voice, one commitment, one resolution of faith can turn things around.

A few days ago, one pastor asked me how things were going, and the first burden I found spilling out of my heart was the decline in church baptisms. He nodded his head in empathy and agreement. “I know we were down in our church last year,” he acknowledged.

But what he said next truly encouraged me. “So we are really getting after that this year. We have set a baptism goal, and we have evangelism training planned. But we also have set goals as a church for the number of gospel presentations we will make, and the number of spiritual conversations we will seek to have, believing that those will then lead to gospel presentations.”

He went on to tell me how each leader and church member was being challenged to look for these opportunities, and that they were reporting them through Sunday school classes and other ways.

That same week, a young pastor wrote me an e-mail, thanking me for how two of our IBSA staff members had specifically helped and encouraged his small church. He admitted that in the past he had questioned how much his church’s Cooperative Program giving helped struggling churches, compared with church plants. Now, in his first senior pastorate, he had experienced firsthand the practical ministry support that state staff provide. Others in his association felt the same, he said, and were planning to join him in increasing their Cooperative Program giving this next year.

What struck me about both these conversations, and both these pastors, was the positive power of one voice, one commitment. One pastor looked at a lower baptism number and said, “We will not be satisfied with that. Here’s what we’re going to do.” Another pastor took a fresh look at the value of cooperative missions giving and said, “We can do more.”

So often it just takes just one voice, one commitment, one resolution of faith to turn things around. I think of Noah, and David, and Elijah, and Nehemiah, and other Old Testament heroes. I think of Peter’s boldness and Paul’s resilience in the New Testament. And of course I think of Jesus, not only on the cross, but also in eternity past, saying to the Father, “This shall not stand. I will do what it takes to make this right.”

Today, each of those pastors is using his own power of one to lead and inspire his church to a better place, regardless of the past, or what happened last year. In doing so, they reminded me how much can change when one person simply refuses to accept the status quo.

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

The Faith Frontier

ib2newseditor —  October 24, 2016

Illinois has come a long way, but we still have a way to go

Illinois IL State United States of America 3d Animated State Map

When Illinois became a state in 1818, fewer than 100 people lived in Chicago, and less than that at Calhoun. The hubs of activity were places such as Kaskaskia, on the banks of the Mississippi River. The town swelled to 7,000 when it became the first state capital for one year. Then bustling Vandalia was the capital for 20 years, until Abraham Lincoln and a few others had the capital moved to Calhoun in 1839. Calhoun had been renamed after Springfield, Massachusetts, a center of trade, creativity, and innovation. They had high hopes for their new Springfield—and for all of Illinois.

Catholic priests came to the area early, following French trappers and traders into St. Louis and later Chicago, building a few churches and converting a few Native Americans. The trappers were largely unconverted. Baptists and some Methodists were on scene by 1781, starting the first Protestant congregation in Illinois and building a Baptist meeting house at New Design, across from St. Louis on the river.

Illinois was a frontier state 200 years ago. Today, in many ways, it still is.

Almost 13 million people live in Illinois. But in terms of faith, the state is wild and untamed. At least 8 million residents do not know Jesus Christ. As the population grows, the percentage who identify with any religion at all continues to decline.

The state’s population hubs are our largest mission fields, especially metro Chicago and metro East St. Louis. Our cities are teeming centers of commerce and education, with growing populations of immigrant peoples.

The last census showed Hispanic and Asian populations are the fastest growing ethnic groups in the state. In fact, the Hispanic population grew in all but one of Illinois’ 102 counties.

In Illinois, nine people groups are unreached with the gospel because of language and cultural barriers, but literally millions of English-speaking and culturally mainstream people have never heard the message of salvation in a way they have understood and believed.

On our college campuses, for example, almost 900,000 students represent a mission field with enormous potential, and historically the lowest percentage of believers among young adults ever.

The cultural withdrawal from the Christian faith is felt all across Illinois—in cities and university settings, in small towns and crossroads communities. The northwest quadrant of Illinois is one of the least-Christian areas in the nation. And scattered across the state, there are nine counties that have no Southern Baptist congregation, 12 counties have only one, and many more have minimal evangelical presence.

In 40% of Illinois counties, less than 1% of the population identifies as Southern Baptist.

By faithful, regular, systematic giving to missions through the Cooperative Program, Baptists together serve as missions pioneers, in our frontier territory in Illinois and around the world, wherever the gospel is needed.

Seminary president to present cross-cultural message

jeff-iorgJeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, will be in Chicagoland to help IBSA Annual Meeting attenders interpret the gathering’s “Cross-Cultural” theme.

Now in his thirteenth year as seminary president, Iorg said his time in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the seminary was headquartered until it relocated south this year, taught him how widespread is the need for the gospel—even as cultural barriers abound.

“I learned the gospel is needed everywhere, no matter the cultural choices which may be offensive or challenging to our faith,” Iorg said. “It’s easy to get sidetracked on lesser issues, but the gospel is still our primary message.”

Through theme interpretations during the meeting and the annual Wednesday evening worship service, Iorg will speak on why and how Christians are called to cross cultural boundaries for the sake of the gospel.

Prior to his time at Gateway (known until this year as Golden Gate Theological Seminary prior to its relocation to the greater Los Angeles area), Iorg has also served as a pastor, church planter, and executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, headquartered in Washington state. For 10 years, he was chaplain for the San Francisco Giants. (Fun fact: Iorg is the proud recipient of three World Series rings.)

He is the author of six books, including “The New Marriage Culture” and “The Case for Antioch,” which focuses on how the early church model applies to modern churches seeking to transform their communities.

At the Annual Meeting, Iorg will explore how cultural shifts affect the means by which Christians take the gospel to people who don’t know Christ.

“Baptists and other evangelicals should aspire to share the gospel with every person, in every culture, by every means possible,” Iorg told the Illinois Baptist. “The inclusiveness and expansiveness of the Great Commission are both non-negotiable.

“We need to recapture both the vision and the passion for getting the gospel to every person in the world.”

Ready for Rio

ib2newseditor —  August 5, 2016

Rio_2016_crop.jpgWith the Olympic Games set to kick off Aug. 5, Southern Baptist volunteers will be in South America to share the gospel both with local residents and with the thousands of visitors from across the globe.

“There exists no greater opportunity to reach people from over 200 nations in 30 days than the Olympic Games,” said John Crocker, a missions pastor from Alabama who is leading a mission team to Rio. Crocker’s team will engage Rio residents with the gospel through evangelistic block parties and Olympic pin trading.

“There is an openness by people to talk with one another and to talk about spiritual things,” said Sid Hopkins a retired director of missions from Georgia who ministers at the Games by distributing pins made especially for the Olympics that tell the story of Jesus.

“We have seen many people who come to the Olympic Games open to listen to the gospel because the atmosphere created is one of friendship on a global level. Ministry during the Olympics is simply electric.”

Pre-event publicity for the Olympics has been largely negative, due to concerns over the Zika virus, Brazil’s economic struggles, the fitness of Rio’s water supply, the Russian doping scandal, and other issues. But Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup proved to be successful, and Olympic organizers are banking on a repeat of that success in Rio.

Journalist Tim Ellsworth, former editor of the Illinois Baptist, will cover the Games for Baptist Press, focusing largely on Christian athletes who are competing, including diver David Boudia. He won gold in the 10-meter platform competition in 2012 and is looking to add to his medal count in both that event and the men’s 10-meter synchro competition with his partner Steele Johnson. Both men gave strong testimonies of their faith in Christ following the Olympic trials this summer.

“This is not what my identity is going to be in the rest of my life,” Johnson said. “Yeah, I’m Steele Johnson the Olympian, but at the same time, I’m here to love and serve Christ. My identity is rooted in Christ and not in the flips we’re doing.”

The Illinois Baptist blog, iB2news.org, will have more stories from Rio during the Olympic Games.

– From Baptist Press

South Loop of Chicago

South Loop of Chicago.

My wife, Cindy, and I have moved to a new home in a mid-rise building in Chicago’s South Loop. Relocating from the Uptown neighborhood where we lived the past two years, this feels like a new mission field. We’re approaching the community as missionaries.

Our seven-year old Australian Shepherd, Yabbo, has proven an effective missionary in his own right. He provides the opportunity to initiate conversations easily. In keeping with the breed, Yabbo is well mannered, charming, and appreciates attention. With Yabbo’s help, Cindy and I have begun to meet the wide variety of people in our mission field and to engage them in conversation. We’re learning what is important to them, how they think, and who they are.

Among our new neighbors are a 60-something couple who moved in a week after we did from a nearby condo. They waited two years for the right place in this building to hit the market. We’ve met a cautious 60-something mother and her hard-charging adult daughter who live together. One woman is single-again in her 40s and has an energetic, vocal small dog. Another couple, in their early 30s, has daughters who are ages three years and four months.

“Who are the people in the neighborhood?” Engage them in conversations. Common ground becomes an opening for the gospel.

If the condo association permits us, we’ll host monthly Sunday brunches as a means of getting to know our neighbors and develop relationships with them. Our objective is to bless our neighbors. We believe, deeply, that the place we live should be better because Jesus-followers are here. We seek to add value to their lives.

The relationships we develop will provide conduits for the gospel and opportunities for disciple making. We’re confident that some will hear the gospel for the first time. Others may have heard the gospel, but have never understood how it applies to their daily lives.
Our hope is that a new community of believers—a church—will emerge from the new believers and those who seek to grow in Christ-likeness.

Regardless of whether we’ve lived in the same place for decades or just moved some place new, we all have the opportunity to listen and learn. Ask as they do on Sesame Street, “Who are the people in the neighborhood?” Engage them in conversations. Common ground becomes an opening for the gospel. And we can begin to make disciples while going about our daily lives.

Dennis Conner is IBSA’s Church Planting Director for the Northeast Region.

Governor Rauner crop

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner

Religion and faith were on display at the Illinois Governor’s Prayer Breakfast as around 200 Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and others gathered at the Executive Mansion in Springfield May 26.

Yet, even in this setting with representatives of several religions, Jesus was lifted up. The gospel was clearly presented in song through the harmonies of The Gibson Girls, Scripture readings from Isaiah 2:1-4 and John 17, and prayer.

At the event, Governor Bruce Rauner asked attendees to pray for the state government. “I hope you will join us and people all around the state of Illinois in prayer. Keep us in your prayers. We need prayers for inspiration and to have good judgment.”

He also shared from his own personal faith background. His father is Catholic, while his mother is Swedish Lutheran. Rauner said he was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopalian Church and his wife is Jewish. “We have interesting conversations around the dinner table,” he joked.

But Rauner said he was inspired by his grandparents’ faith and the lessons they taught him: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” from Luke 6:31 and “For whom much is given, much shall be required,” from Luke 12:48. He spoke of the responsibility he felt after earning his own wealth, and said it was their examples that lead him to set up a charitable foundation to give to causes as well as to serve.

The governor shared about the importance of continuing the tradition of the breakfast, which some feared would not take place this year. In early May, a member of the organization that normally hosts the event, told media the breakfast would not be held due to state budget problems. Upon hearing the news, the Rauner expressed his disappointment and his office sought sponsors to host the event. Three organizations — the Abundant Faith Christian Center, the One Nation Under God Foundation, and the Illinois Executive Mansion Association — stepped up to sponsor the event, held every year since 1963. No government dollars were used to pay for this years event.

Bob Vanden Bosch, chairman of the One Nation Under God Foundation, told the Springfield State-Journal Register last week, “For us, this is a faith initiative. It’s not something that’s political. … I believe that prayer could be used by the state of Illinois right now.”

The event did include a reading from the Koran, but the overall tone of the event was Judeo-Christian.

Illinois Southern Baptists were represented at the event by two of the Illinois Baptist newspaper’s editors, Eric Reed and Lisa Sergent.

Columbus, Ohio | Meredith Flynn

The most personal testimony shared publicly during the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio, came from a source most Baptists probably had never heard of prior to the meeting.

Rosaria Butterfield (second from left) was part of a panel discussion on same-sex marriage at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention.

Rosaria Butterfield participated in a panel discussion Wednesday afternoon with some very familiar faces—men that have been instrumental in calling Baptists to a deeper reliance on the gospel when it comes to understanding how it intersects with cultural issues.

When it was her turn to speak, she delivered the truth, plain and simple:

“I often tell people I was not converted out of homosexuality,” said Butterfield, a former lesbian. “I was converted out of unbelief. And then the Lord started working on some other stuff.”

One reporter in the press room later commented they were glad Butterfield had been in Columbus, so that more people could hear her story. Her past and, in a different way, her present—her husband pastors a Reformed Presbyterian Church—set her apart from her audience in Columbus. But as she nodded encouragingly as the other panelists talked, and when she delivered the short version of her testimony with an almost-constant smile, the value of hearing from a new voice at the Southern Baptist Convention was clear.

As a professor at Syracuse University, Butterfield said she had finished the book she needed to write to achieve tenure and turned her attention to what she really wanted to write: “a critique of the religious right from a lesbian feminist point of view.”

In the process, she met a Christian pastor and his wife who invited her into their home (and visited hers) and truly befriended her. At first, “I thought I simply got free research assistants,” Butterfield told the audience in Columbus.

But after two years and reading through the Bible seven times, she said, “The Bible simply got to be bigger inside me than I. And one of the things that I realized was that I wanted Jesus.”

Butterfield’s fascinating testimony, detailed in her book “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith,” stands alone as encouragement to churches trying to reach out to their neighbors with genuine love and the truth of the gospel.

But it was what she said later in the discussion that could prove to be most helpful. In just a few minutes, Butterfield laid out a prescription for how the church can minister compassionately to the LGBT community:

Make your Christian community an accessible community. That means giving up ownership of our time, Butterfield said, and also gaining a more “collective” understanding of sin.

She quoted 1 Corinthians 10:13, about God providing a way of escape from temptation. “What if your home is the way of escape?” she asked.

Share “the means of grace” in a public way. How can Christians make repentance more known (and understood) among their neighbors?

Get to know the Bible—better than we do now. Time with the Lord is “a public community service,” Butterfield said. It’s how Christians get ready to speak a word of truth.

“Don’t deny the power of the gospel to change lives and to travel at the grassroots level,” Butterfield said near the end of the conversation. “Your friendships matter.”

For those listening to her story in Columbus, the power of the gospel was undeniable.

Watch the panel discussion, held during the Wednesday afternoon session of the Southern Baptist Convention, at http://live.sbc.net.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/ondemand.html.