Archives For Great Commission

What really counts

Lisa Misner —  October 1, 2018

Pioneering-200-logo-layers-260x300By Nate Adams

Big birthdays have a way of getting our attention, as they should. Sometimes they even alarm us. Can my parents, or grandparents, really be 80? Am I really 50? Is my church really a hundred? Time really does seem to fly, whether you’re having fun or not.

And so maybe it snuck up on you that our home state turns 200 this year. One verse from the Illinois state song reminds us, “Eighteen-eighteen saw your founding, Illinois, Illinois.” Don’t worry, though, there’s still time to buy a gift. While the official seal of Illinois bears the date August 26, 1818, that was when the first state constitution was ratified. It wasn’t until December 3 that the U.S. government formally made Illinois the 21st state of the union.

And while the Illinois bicentennial may be receiving less fanfare than the national one back in 1976, this big birthday should still be getting our attention. There were only about 35,000 people in Illinois in 1818, but today there are at least 8.2 million who do not claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. These two hundred years have brought a lot of people into our state mission field, and our Great Commission challenge as churches here is now bigger than ever.

That’s why we are embracing the Illinois bicentennial in our theme for this year’s IBSA Annual Meeting, “Pioneering Spirit – 200 and Counting.” As we now count two hundred years of statehood, we are also asking “what should we be counting?” and “what should really count?” today, if we are to have the same pioneering spirit as our Baptist forebears.

Beginning with last year’s annual meeting, IBSA has been challenging Illinois Baptist churches and leaders to join together and “count to 200” in four strategic, missional ways:

First, we have identified 200 places or people groups in Illinois where a new church is desperately needed. We are inviting churches to adopt one or more of those 200 by praying for them, or partnering with resources or volunteers, or actually sponsoring the plant as the mother church.

Second, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will seek to become more frequently baptizing churches, by setting annual baptism goals and equipping their members to intentionally have gospel conversations and participate in evangelistic events and mission trips. We are praying for churches that will set their sights on baptizing at least once a month, or more than their previous 3-year average.

Third, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will commit a specific percentage of their annual budgets to Cooperative Program missions, and then seek to increase that percentage annually toward 10% or more.

And finally, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will commit to intentional leadership development processes—not only for the pastor and current leaders, but also for tomorrow’s pastors, church planters, and missionaries.

You can learn more about these commitments, and register your church’s pledge to them, by visiting pioneeringspirit.org, or by calling John Carruthers at (217) 391-3110. There are currently 166 churches that have registered a commitment, and we are hoping to celebrate 200, in more ways than one, when we gather at First Baptist Maryville for the IBSA Annual Meeting.

Of course, some churches are fulfilling one or more of these challenges already. But for the overwhelming majority of IBSA churches, these challenges will be a major stretch. In fact, as our Annual Meeting theme suggests, moving beyond our status quo into these types of commitments will take a true “pioneering spirit.” It’s the kind of spirit that brought Baptist pioneers to Illinois more than 200 years ago.

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

A compelling vision

Lisa Misner —  August 23, 2018

MIO Logo 500pxImagine a place in America where people have never heard the gospel. Imagine a growing town with no church to share the Good News of Jesus. That place is Illinois, and that community is Pingree Grove—rather, it was. Now, church planter R.T. Maldaner and City of Joy Church are taking the gospel to Pingree Grove, with the help of IBSA church planting strategists.

People in Pingree Grove are catching a vision of what it would be like to see their community transformed. The spiritual need there, and across Illinois, is at the heart of the 2018 Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer.

Acts 1:8 commissions believers in Christ to share the gospel everywhere, from their home towns to the ends of the earth. Tucked into that call is “Judea,” which modern readers often translate to mean our state. Our Judea is spiritually needy, with millions who don’t know Christ, and at least 200 places in need of a new church.

13 million people call Illinois home. More than 8 million of them do not know Christ.

Baptists have long been people of vision, especially for missions. We give cooperatively to send missionaries to North America’s largest cities, and to remote villages around the world. Here in Illinois, people need the truth of Christ just as desperately. Imagine whole towns and cities transformed. Churches made stronger by members intentionally living out the gospel, and sharing it with their neighbors. Lives changed—for eternity.

The Mission Illinois Offering is a lifeline to vital ministries and missions here. Your MIO offering helps start new churches, strengthen existing congregations, and train people to share the gospel in their neighborhoods and beyond.

In our state of great need, we have a compelling vision—to see the gospel transform lives, churches, towns, and cities.

Many IBSA churches will observe the Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer Sept. 9-16. Your church should have received an offering kit in the mail, and additional resources are available at missionillinois.org.

If your church is planning to collect the offering for the first time, or the first time in a while, the IBSA ministry staff will gladly help you communicate with your church about the vital nature of state missions. Please contact the Church Communications Team at (217) 391-3119 or request a speaker online.

In our state of great need, we have a compelling vision—to see the gospel transform lives, churches, towns, and cities.

Scared to share?

ib2newseditor —  March 29, 2018
Dr. Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, Illinois

Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, Illinois

Though I have shared the gospel message many times, I can still be afraid to share my faith with others. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I’ve heard many others express that same anxiety. Here are some reasons we might be afraid to share our faith and what to do about it.

We worry it won’t be well-received. I’ve actually had very few people who were offended that I tried to share the gospel with them. That doesn’t mean they all trust the Lord when I witness. It just means that people are frequently more interested than you might think.

Often, I ask for permission to share the gospel by saying something like, “Can I tell what the Bible says about how you can have a relationship with God?” or something like that. A few say “no” to that question. But many people are willing to at least hear the message.

We worry we won’t be able to answer their questions. It is true that we can’t always answer all the questions people ask about faith. Sometimes we have to say, “I don’t know” or “Let me find out more about that.” But we don’t have to know everything about everything to be able to share what we know.

And, all questions are not the same. Some questions people ask are more theoretical. Some are excuses. Some are genuine questions that need to be dealt with carefully. Often I find myself saying, “I don’t know the answer to that fully and will need to get back with you on it. But can I tell you what the Bible says about how you can know Jesus?” If possible, I want people to be able to hear the basic gospel message fully, even if I can’t fully answer every question they might ask.

We worry about what others will think of us. Let’s face it. This one can be a big part of our fear of sharing the gospel. After all, like many of you, I can be something of a people pleaser. But God reminds us that he wants to use us to be his ambassadors. In other words, our primary thought should be on what he thinks and not on what someone else thinks.

Remember that telling others is the natural result of what we believe. We are beggars who have found the bread of life. It is only natural that we want other beggars to find that same bread. While we can’t make them eat, it is our compassion that leads us to tell them about this life-giving bread. We should be kind and caring and loving in our sharing, but our primary focus should be on doing what the Lord wants us to do.

We worry we might mess up and are unsure how to make the gospel clear to them. I don’t want to add confusion to those already living in spiritual confusion. This is one of the reasons why a sound method of sharing the gospel is helpful and healthy. Learning a solid method can keep us on track and help us avoid confusing those who are hearing the gospel.

There are dozens of great tools for sharing the gospel. Whether it is the Romans Road or 3 Circles or Can We Talk or any other biblically sound method, these tools can help you to share the gospel in an understandable way. A solid methodology can help us overcome the fear of not knowing how to share.

If you have had any of these fears, or others, you are not alone. But, with God’s help, you can be a witness of God’s grace to others. Don’t let fear keep you from following the Lord’s command to share the gospel. And don’t let it keep you from the joy of learning that God uses people like us—fears and all—to accomplish his purposes.

Doug Munton is pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon. This column first appeared at BPNews.net.

Pastor Curtis Gilbert

“If they (your church) keep putting a cape on you, and you keep letting them, then you need to be rebuked. Because you are nobody’s Superman.”
– Pastor Curtis Gilbert on how a pastor needs his people as much as they need him.

Ministry can be chaotic, said Belleville pastor Curtis Gilbert. In fact, it definitely will be. What pastors are called to is not a calling of ease or of superficial comfort, Gilbert told leaders at the 2017 IBSA Pastors’ Conference, but one that will call everything out of you.

The pastor of The Journey’s Metro East campus opened the conference with an encouragement to pastors to acknowledge the chaos, and to assess their lives and ministries in four key ways described by the apostle Paul in Titus 1:5-9. The Scripture passage was the foundation for the conference and its theme, “Time for a Check-Up.”

Gilbert urged pastors to evaluate their own love for Jesus, for the gospel, for their family, and for God’s people.

“Even the sheep that bite you are precious souls,” Gilbert said, adding that pastors can become arrogant and impatient when they stop viewing church members as God’s children, and when they forget that they themselves are every bit as much a sinner as their people. Don’t delegate all the shepherding to other people, Gilbert told pastors.

“Be with the sheep; it gives your preaching credibility,” he said, emphasizing that a pastor needs his people as much as they need him.

Joe Valenti spoke after Gilbert and smilingly accused him of stealing his message. “What he preached to you is what I’m going to preach,” said the student and missions pastor from Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio. “Namely, that if you would fall in love with the God of the gospel, if he would be your everything, then everything else comes out of that.”

Valenti, whose church is engaged in reaching unreached people groups with the gospel, quoted pastor and author John Piper, who has said, “You cannot commend what you do not cherish.” When pastors treasure the God of the gospel, Valenti said, relying on him for everything and never forgetting the first day they experienced his grace, “missions comes out.”

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.”

Pastor Brad Pittman

Brad Pittman (center), pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Davis Junction, accepted this year’s IBSA Bivocational Pastor of the Year award this morning at the Pastors’ Conference in Decatur. 

In light of eternity
The mass shooting at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas, just two days before the conference began lent a heightened urgency to the meeting and the messages. Randy Johnson, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur, preached on how to share the gospel as if it’s going to be your last opportunity, while Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, told pastors the world they minister in is only getting darker.

The Christian worldview decreases a few percentage points every year, said Stetzer, former executive director of LifeWay Research and a long-time analyst of church and religion trends. And it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better, he added.

“I’m convinced that one of the reasons Southern Baptists are declining is that we have hidden our light under a bushel,” Stetzer said. But as aliens and strangers in the culture—as exiles—can we love people in the midst of cultural change, he asked. “If we can’t, we have a lot of explaining to do to Christians who have—for 2,000 years—done that.”

The 2018 IBSA Pastors’ Conference is Nov. 6-7 at First Baptist Church, Maryville. Officers are Bob Stilwell, president; Ben Towell, vice president; and Rayden Hollis, treasurer.

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.

watch pocketIn the church I grew up in, “missionary” was a sacred and scary title, bestowed only upon the spiritual elite, the Navy Seals of the Christian world. We considered them heroes, sat in awe through their slideshows, and gladly donated our money to their ministries.

It was years later that I first realized that every Christian was a missionary, that all Christians were called to leverage their lives and talents for the kingdom. God’s calling into mission is not a separate call we receive years after our salvation; it is inherent in the very call to salvation. Every believer is given a spiritual gift and a role to play in the spread of the Great Commission. “Follow me,” Jesus said, “And I will make you fishers of men.” That’s for everyone, not just those who feel a special tingly feeling they interpret as the call of God, or those who see some message from heaven spelled out in the clouds. Too many Christians sit around waiting on a “voice” to tell them what God has already spelled out in a verse.

Another way to put it: The question is no longer if we are called to leverage our lives for the Great Commission; it’s only where and how.

When “normal” Christians embrace this idea of calling, the gospel spreads like a prairie grassfire. Luke, the writer of Acts, goes out of his way to show us that the gospel travels faster around the world in the mouths of regular Christians than it does through full-time, vocational Christian workers. Luke notes, for example, that the first time the gospel left Jerusalem, it was not in the mouths of the apostles. Regular people “went everywhere preaching the word,” while the apostles stayed in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1–4). The first time the gospel actually went out into the world, not a single apostle was involved.

  • The first “international mission trip” was taken later in that same chapter by Philip, another layman. The Spirit carried him to a desert road where he met an Ethiopian government official, and Philip led him to Christ.
  • The church at Antioch, which served as the hub for missionary activity for the last half of the book of Acts, was not planted by an apostle, but simply “some brothers,” whose names Luke did not even bother to record—presumably because no one would have known whom he was talking about.
  • Apollos, a layman, first carried the gospel into Ephesus, and unnamed brothers first established the church at Rome. These Christians didn’t travel to Rome on a formal mission trip, but were carried there through the normal relocations that come with business and life. As they went, they made disciples in every place (Acts 8:5–8; 18:24–19:1; 28:15).
  • As the historian Steven Neill notes, “Nothing is more notable than the anonymity of these early missionaries.…Luke does not turn aside to mention the name of a single one of those pioneers who laid the foundation. Few, if any, of the great Churches were really founded by apostles. Peter and Paul may have organized the Church in Rome. They certainly did not found it.”

The next wave of missions will be carried forward, I believe, in much the same way—on the wings of business. Consider this: If you overlay a map of world poverty with a map of world evangelization, you will find that the areas most in need of business development are also the most unevangelized. Many of the most unreached places in the world, most closed to Christian missionaries, have arms wide open to any kind of businessmen.

Missiologists frequently refer to a “10/40 window” in which the most unreached peoples live (lying between the 10 and 40 degree latitude lines). For business leaders, the 10/40 window isn’t a window at all; it’s a wide open door.

God may not call you to leave the United States (though he might!). But if you’re a believer, he is calling you to follow him where he goes, as he seeks to make his name known. Whether you’re an investment banker or a full-time pastor, a stay-at-home mom or an overseas missionary, God has a mission for you. From Raleigh-Durham to Bahrain, the responsibility to think that way belongs to every believer. As we often say, “Whatever you are good at, do it well for the glory of God, and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.”

It’s time for the “ordinary believers” in our churches to recover the understanding that they are called to the mission and shaped by God for a specific role in that mission. The question is no longer if we are called to leverage our lives for the Great Commission; it’s only a matter of where and how.

J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and author of “Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send.”