Archives For Gospel

Happy Birthday, Illinois!

Lisa Misner —  October 15, 2018

By Meredith Flynn

On our state’s bicentennial, the resolve of its early settlers has new meaning for Baptists.

Settlers arriving in the Illinois territory in the early 1800s didn’t know what to make of what they found. History tells us many of them moved north from areas that were heavily wooded. They trusted land that could support so many trees. The Illinois prairie offered no such reassurance.

“The prairies posed a new set of problems for farmers,” writes historian Pamela Riney-Kehrberg. “Below the land’s surface were tough, fibrous roots of tall prairie grasses, extending downward a foot or more. A simple wooden plow could hardly penetrate the surface.”

The pioneers made do by settling mostly in the southern part of the state, where ready access to water and trees made constructing their homes and farms more feasible. Some, though, eventually headed north, and found a way to work the hard prairie soil. It was richer than they thought, historians say. They just needed different tools. Steel, instead of wood.

Industrial pioneers John Deere and Cyrus McCormick developed tools for farming the prairie lands. And Illinois boomed. Its statehood population in 1818 was 35,000. By 1830, it had grown to 157,000, and would triple over the next decade. Still, tending the land was expensive. Families sacrificed much, Riney-Kehrberg notes, to run even a modest farm.

Two hundred years later, the challenges of tilling the soil in Illinois are different. But they still exist, especially in spiritual terms. More than 8 million people in Illinois do not know Christ. Many churches are struggling against the cultural tide to see real transformation in their communities.

Blue map copy

“I have often said that even though Illinois is the second flattest state in America, being Baptist here is an uphill climb,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “Baptists have always been somewhat counter-cultural and a minority in Illinois, but that used to be because larger groups of people from different religious cultures had settled the state.

“Now it’s because the culture overall has become less and less religious, and arguably more hardened to the gospel message.”

Like Illinois’ early settlers found years ago, sometimes hard soil calls for new tools. Last year, IBSA presented four challenges to renew “pioneering spirit” among Baptists in Illinois. (Read more about the challenges at pioneeringspirit.org.)

These “new tools” are actually tried-and-true church practices: evangelism, church planting, sacrificial giving, and raising up new generations of leaders.

“The widespread and growing lostness of our state compels us to think in new ways. Maybe old ways,” said Van Kicklighter, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Planting Team. “The pioneers of Illinois and parts west came to those territories knowing that if they didn’t bring the gospel with them, it just would not be present. We need that same kind of spirit and thinking today.”

‘Time to do something’
After the 2017 IBSA Annual Meeting, David Starr led his church to tackle all four of the Pioneering Spirit challenges. His congregation, Community Southern Baptist Church in Clay City, is employing these new tools to make a difference in Illinois, especially in places where there is no IBSA church.

Starr approached Joe Lawson, director of missions for Louisville Baptist Association, about starting an association-wide prayer emphasis for the 10 counties in Illinois without an IBSA church. Community Southern, which averages around 70 in worship attendance, was assigned Carroll County in northwest Illinois. They started praying. Then, they took action.

“There’s a time to pray, and there’s a time to do something,” Starr said. He spoke with IBSA staff in Springfield and leaders in northwest Illinois, planning a mission trip that would be focused on assessing needs in the region. In July, Starr and his wife and another couple from their church traveled more than 300 miles along a diagonal line from Clay City to Savanna, Ill.

During their trip, they met with a church planter in Galena for a Monday night Bible study. Then, they knocked on doors. Starr said the small team visited 70% of the homes in the focus area, and found 21 people or families who wanted to commit themselves to seeing a Southern Baptist church planted there.

“We watch God,” Starr said. “He’s done everything.”

The team also saw physical need in Carroll County. The region has lost jobs in two big industries—railroad and lumber. There’s poverty and hunger. A woman who the team encountered ran into them later at a local store. “Don’t forget us,” she said.

Starr’s team went back home to Clay City, but they’ve continued to pray. There’s a map on the church bulletin board showing the streets they visited, and printed prayer reminders for the congregation.

Along with the challenge to go new places with the gospel, Community Southern is keeping up with the other Pioneering Spirit commitments. They increased missions giving through the Cooperative Program, are working to enlist new leaders, and celebrated one baptism on One GRAND Sunday, a statewide baptism emphasis in April.

“Here is a pastor and church that captured the pioneering spirit,” Kicklighter said. “They heard about a place where there was a compelling need, and they decided to do something about it.

“We need lots of Illinois Baptist churches with this kind of passion and willingness—a pioneering spirit.”

Starr said he’s never seen anything like it in his years of ministry. His church is investing willingly in other people and places. Like Illinois’ early settlers, they’re tilling the hard soil, and using less familiar tools to do so.

“We watch God,” Starr said. “He’s done everything.”

– Meredith Flynn, with info from History.com and “The Historical Development of Agriculture in Illinois” by Pamela Riney-Kehrberg

The best offense

Lisa Misner —  May 7, 2018

By Nate Adams

During the years I played basketball, my teams had some winning seasons and some losing seasons. After one of those losing seasons, our coach decided to make some changes.

They weren’t personnel changes—our best players were on the floor most of the time. The problem was that most of our competitors were taller and bigger than we were. And none of us were great outside shooters.

But we were quick. And we played hard. And by the start of the next season, our coach made sure we were in excellent condition. Because his new strategy, and our new life, we learned, was defense.

ADF-IBSAAt first we complained, at least among ourselves, because three-fourths of our practice time focused on guarding and running. Most basketball players like to shoot the ball. But our coach shook off our looks of discouragement with this promise: “Guys, this year our best offense is going to be good defense.” And as our defense created steals, and those steals created easy baskets for us, we grew to believe him. It was good defense that was creating new opportunities, and victories, for us.

For churches in today’s rapidly changing moral and legal climate, good defense is also essential. Religious freedom is being assaulted again and again, and often by giant, imposing foes that can range from the courts, to the schools, to the entertainment elite, to the culture itself. Churches that were once noted for the good they do are now often viewed with distrust and, in some cases, those churches face direct legal challenges.

One excellent “coach” in this changing and challenging climate is a Christian organization named Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF has over 23 years of experience providing religious freedom legal services to churches and Christian organizations, and has played a role in at least 52 Supreme Court victories. Now, through its recently developed Church Alliance program, it provides member churches with religious freedom legal services ranging from facility or land use, to unconstitutional regulation, to tax exemption issues.

Churches that join ADF’s Church Alliance program receive a religious liberty audit, including legal review of church bylaws and policies. They receive direct access to attorneys to answer the church’s questions about protecting its religious liberty. And they can receive consultation and/or legal representation in cases involving the church’s religious liberty.

Seeing that these services are now so valuable to churches, IBSA recently entered a partnership agreement with ADF to provide these services to IBSA churches for a flat annual membership rate, regardless of the church’s size. In fact, IBSA believes so strongly in the value of these services for individual churches, that IBSA will pay half of the first year’s annual $250 fee for any IBSA church that enrolls in ADF’s Church Alliance program. The religious liberty audit of a church’s key documents alone is worth well more than this amount, especially compared to the cost of an individual attorney for these services.

You can learn more about Alliance Defending Freedom, and receive the half-price IBSA church partnership discount (enter code IBSA2018), through the IBSA.org website, or call or e-mail the IBSA offices for a free brochure on how the ADF Church Alliance program works.
For my basketball team, playing serious defense was a game-changer, and a season-changer. We scored more points, and we won more games. But our offense was triggered by a solid, hard-working defense.

I am hopeful that hundreds of our IBSA churches will realize the threat they are facing, and get serious about defending their biblical beliefs and religious freedoms. Perhaps in doing so, we will also find new opportunities to go on offense with the gospel. Sometimes the best offense really is a good defense.

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

Andreson-Ponce

Chicago pastor Dave Andreson (left) met Puerto Rican church planters while serving on the island in October, including Jose Ponce, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Resurrección in Isabela.

Arecibo, Puerto Rico | In October, Southern Baptist volunteers began relief efforts in Puerto Rico after the U.S. territory sustained devastating damage from the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The volunteers are working through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Relief initiative, but their work is unlike other Disaster Relief projects.

“The circumstance is so unusual that we have to take the full responsibility of this response on our own,” said David Melber, president of Send Relief. “That means buying and shipping the food, renting warehouse space, sending the kitchen equipment, and then providing the volunteers to do the cooking. We are forging our entire response by ourselves.”

Chicago church planter Dave Andreson spent a week in Puerto Rico as a trained Disaster Relief chaplain. Andreson, a U.S. Army veteran, couldn’t shake the growing burden he felt for the island. “I had to get there,” said the pastor of Resurrection City Church in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood.

While plans to send volunteers to Puerto Rico were on hold immediately after the storms, Andreson attended a two-day Disaster Relief training at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp in southern Illinois. One week later, with Baptist volunteers able to get into Puerto Rico, Andreson boarded a flight from Chicago to San Juan.

McKnight

Pastor George McKnight and his wife, Debbie, pause for a photo at Green Island Baptist Church in Puerto Rico, which lost its roof and was flooded during Hurricane Maria’s sweeping destruction.

He served with a Disaster Relief team from Virginia in Arecibo, a city 50 miles west of San Juan in northern Puerto Rico. The team stayed at First Baptist Church there and spent their days cleaning out homes and removing downed trees. Andreson said the teams are working under the leadership of local pastors who understand the people and needs in their communities.

Since the hurricanes, Andreson said, many people are leaving Puerto Rico. Their workplaces are still without power, most schools are still closed, and if you have running water, it’s not safe to drink. FBC Aricebo has already lost about 40 people. One church planter Andreson talked to is worried his young congregation won’t survive.

But the Chicago pastor said he believes Puerto Rico is primed for the gospel. “Physical suffering makes us aware of physical need, and those physical needs always open the door by which the word of God, the gospel proclaimed, makes us aware of our spiritual need,” Andreson said.

“This is a horrible thing that happened, but it’s a good gift from God by which the gospel will go forward. Now more than ever, the church in Puerto Rico, the church of Jesus Christ, has an opportunity to shine the light of Christ.”

The punishing hurricane season has left its mark in other parts of the U.S., including Florida and in Texas, where Illinois teams have served in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. For more information about Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief opportunities and training, go to IBSA.org/dr. To learn more about opportunities in Puerto Rico through Send Relief, go to sendrelief.net.

– Meredith Flynn, with reporting from NAMB

Curtis Gilbert 2 webDecatur, Ill. | The IBSA Pastors’ Conference began Tuesday with an impassioned plea for leaders to heed the apostle Paul’s words in Titus 1:5-9:

“The reason I left you in Crete was to set right what was left undone and, as I directed you, to appoint elders in every town: one who is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of wildness or rebellion. For an overseer, as God’s administrator, must be blameless, not arrogant, not hot-tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.

Curtis Gilbert (above) warned pastors not to miss four areas of needed assessment evident in Paul’s words. First, how’s your love for Jesus, asked Gilbert, pastor of The Journey in Belleville. Don’t get used to Jesus, he told pastors.

“If you’re bored, the reason is you’ve gotten your eyes off him, and onto yourself and onto your ministry,” he said. No matter how long you’ve walked with Jesus, Gilbert told conference attenders, you still have as much need for the gospel and for Jesus as when you first confessed him as Lord.

The Metro East pastor asked pastors to assess their lives and ministries in three more areas: how well they love the gospel, their families, and God’s people.

He reminded pastors that as shepherds, they have as much need of their people as their people do of them. “If they keep putting a cape on you, and you keep letting them, then you need to be rebuked,” Gilbert warned pastors. “Because you are nobody’s Superman.”

Joe Valenti webJoe Valenti (right) spoke after Gilbert and urged pastors to fall in love with the gospel. “Everything else comes out of that,” said the student and missions pastor from Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio.

There are more than 11,000 people groups in the world, Valenti said, and more than 7,000 are still unreached with the gospel. That’s not a problem for the International Mission Board or for missionaries or for the Cooperative Program, he said. Rather, “We need to see the completion of the Great Commission as a personal problem.”

red leaves church steeple

This past June, Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines put together a task force charged with recommending how we might deal with the alarming decline in baptisms in our Convention. What a daunting task it is. Baptisms have declined precipitously for the past 17 years. We have gone from more than 400,000 baptisms per year, to less than 300,000. The needs in America are greater than ever, but our effectiveness in meeting those needs has plunged. This ought to greatly concern all of us who care about the Great Commission and this land in which we live.

The task force’s first meeting, held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, was both disquieting and encouraging. We stared the terrible problem of lostness in the teeth. It is daunting. But we prayed long and hard to the God who is greater than our problems. Dr. Paige Patterson, chair of our group, called us to prolonged periods of prayer and seeking the Lord’s guidance. The Lord’s power and direction, after all, is what we most need. These times of prayer were so refreshing to my soul.

We heard from all the members of the task force—and there are some outstanding people on this team. Each member spoke about some aspect of evangelism. I was moved by their passion and insight and clarity. We began the process of thinking through what might be recommended to our churches at the convention next June. Subsequent meetings will begin to hone in on those possible recommendations more directly.

The SBC’s Evangelism Task Force has a big challenge: Helping churches recapture their evangelistic zeal.

Two things have become crystal clear to me. I speak for no one on the task force but myself, but these two things seem obvious to me. First, we have lost our focus on leading people to faith in Jesus Christ. Second, we need a renewed passion for evangelism. I will give my thoughts briefly to each:

1. We have lost our focus on leading people to faith in Jesus Christ. Evangelism is hard. It takes work and effort and intentionality. It doesn’t happen without commitment to it. Evangelism, it seems, is the first thing that goes when a church faces controversy or problems or challenges. It doesn’t happen unless it is a concerted focus in our lives and churches.

Dr. Gaines uses the term “soul winning.” It comes from the Bible passage I learned in the old KJV as a boy: “He that winneth souls is wise.” We don’t hear that term so often anymore. Come to think of it, we don’t hear about evangelism in any form as much anymore. We are far more likely to hear about church planting or discipleship or worship—all good and important things. But evangelism is spoken of less often in our Baptist circles, it seems to me.

I know this in my own life: If sharing the gospel is not high on my radar it is not practiced in my life. I can fill my life with meetings and sermon preparation and dealing with a myriad of problems. And, if I am not conscious about it, I can forget about sharing the gospel with those around me. Somehow, evangelism must again become a focus of my church and your church, of my life and your life.

2. We need a renewed passion for evangelism. Passion is a powerful force. Passion changes our thoughts, our dreams, and our actions. It changes our lives and it changes our churches. Let’s get passionate about sharing the message of the gospel. Let’s get passionate about seeing lost people saved. Let’s be so passionate about evangelism that it changes our thoughts, our dreams, and our actions.

I want more passion for evangelism in my personal life and in my church family. As a pastor, I want my church to know that I am sharing my faith and I want my church members to join me in sharing the gospel. Without evangelistic passion, we will just go about the routine business of the church without doing the primary business of the church!

Perhaps that passion will show itself in strategic decisions or training programs or events. But passion always makes a difference. Let’s pray for more evangelistic passion personally and corporately.

Will you pray for the Evangelism Task Force when you think of it? It will take a work of God to turn our Convention to greater effectiveness. But by God’s power we can see that change made. My prayer is that God will use our group toward that end.

Doug Munton is pastor of First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Jacqueline ScottRecently I was blessed to join a group of individuals that had a heart to reach out to the inhabitants of Cairo, Illinois. This town on the southern tip of the state is a fraction of the size it once was, and is plagued by poverty, crime, and despair.

I was anxious to be part of the evangelism team. Speaking to others about Christ is my passion, especially in a street ministry setting. The analogy I use is that the army of God needs boots on the ground, and I enjoy the march.

As my friends and I drove through the overpass into Cairo, a darkness seemed to engulf us. I don’t think they noticed, or at least they didn’t mention it. It was the darkness of spiritual oppression, even in the light of day. We were all joyous about the possibility of new converts and changed lives, yet I clearly recognized the spiritual stronghold on this community.

We were sent out two-by-two, just as Jesus illustrated with the disciples. We were given a small tract called “Your Life (A New Beginning),” which could be used as a conversation starter. We were to inform the individual that this little booklet had valuable information on obtaining a good life, then ask them how their life was going.

In Cairo, I saw the effect of simply talking with people about Jesus.

On the first day I felt some trepidation about this task. I would vacillate between complete trust in the Spirit’s leadership, followed by strict attention to the tract. Although I knew the tract was simply a tool, I found myself concerned about whether I’d covered all the bases. I became more focused on my presentation than on the individual’s reaction or response.

A “cold call” is never an easy form of interaction, especially in witnessing. Having just a few minutes at the door, our purpose is to offer the A-B-C’s of salvation, and hope for follow-up and for growth to come later. Nevertheless, we sometimes fall into “Christianese” while conveying the message. This often results in more confusion than clarification. And on that first day in Cairo, I found myself far too focused on checking the talking points in the tract.

As a group we had prayed numerous times, but in this wavering between trust in him and desire to complete the presentation, I knew the Lord was beckoning me to a new place of reliance on him.

I can honestly say I love to talk and I love people. I’ve often said my spiritual gift is beneath my nose and my spiritual calling is to “love people into the kingdom.” So the question is: what do I love to talk about? Answer: people coming to a real relationship with Christ.

For me, having a “gospel conversation” is a natural process, as natural as any other conversation, if the subject matter is about something or someone you love. The word of God reminds us that we are equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17), and we are always to be ready to give an answer to everyone for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).

If we have been mandated to “go and tell” as the Great Commission emphasizes, are we to conclude that God would purposely make fulfillment of that call difficult? I believe not. His word cites in Deuteronomy 30:14 and Romans 10:8 that the word is very near us; it’s in our mouths, which means all we have to do is open our mouth. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and allow him to speak his truth through us as yielded vessels.

There in Cairo I asked the Lord to allow me to be natural, sensitive, and intentional, using the gift that he had given me, the gift of sharing, whether it be a through a booklet, a testimony, or conversation about the commonalities in our lives.

The next two days were significantly better because I released the idea that I had some sense of responsibility for the outcome of a person’s decision. With each day, I felt more liberated to have natural conversations. At one house, an individual of the Black Hebrew Israelite religion informed my partner and me that we made a good team. This was strictly due to how we presented the message in a natural, non-threatening manner. The man was willing to listen because we didn’t so much “present” the gospel; we simply talked about the Savior.

Jacqueline Scott is a member of Dorrisville Baptist Church in Harrisburg. She also serves on the IBSA Board of Directors.

Giving

Coin

Today churches will collect the Mission Illinois Offering, which supports the ministries in this prayer guide and more. It is so important that we reach the $475,000 goal. Consider your own gift for state missions.

In worship and prayer today, consider all the things that IBSA churches achieve together. We are grateful for God’s blessing on missions and ministry that reach lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But with a little more than 70,000 people worshiping in Southern Baptist churches in Illinois today, we are far outnumbered. And with at least 8-million lost people in our state, the task before us is monumental—but not insurmountable.

God can bring a spiritual awakening to Illinois. And Baptists can stand ready to join in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faithful prayer and missions support make God’s work strong and growing.

Pray for all our partner churches to give today, and for Executive Director Nate Adams and the missions support staff of IBSA.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

Give to the Offering. If your church promotes and receives a Mission Illinois Offering, we encourage you to give that way. If not, you can also give here — www.IBSA.org/GiveToMIO.

Watch IBSA’s, “Annual Report to Ministry Partners.”