Archives For Heartland

Let’s go back to church

Lisa Misner —  September 2, 2015

Back to Church SundayHEARTLAND | The kids have gone back to school, so now let’s go back to church. That’s the idea behind National Back to Church Sunday, September 20. After Labor Day is one of those times when the number of church visitors increases. How can we prepare?

Smiles, everyone. Practice your greetings. Put it plainly: let’s make people feel welcome, not just at the assigned hand-shaking time, but before and after the service, too.

Two-minute warning. As with the last moments of an NFL game, assign the greeting to the last two minutes of the service. Encourage people to stick around and talk, or invite the guests to lunch at a local restaurant.

Check the signage. Invite a stranger to assess the effectiveness of the signs in your buildings, especially for the restrooms and children’s area.

Paint the entryway. The rest of the place may need it too, but at least spruce up the lobby.

Best face forward. Assign the friendliest greeters for the month of September in a variety of ages. Review the basics of making people feel welcome and giving directions.

Learn more about Back to Church Sunday

The Chicago vortex

nateadamsibsa —  January 12, 2015

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

It’s January, and another “polar vortex” appears to be descending upon our heartland homes. Just a few days ago the temperature outside was flirting with 50 degrees. But then yesterday was barely above freezing, and as I write now it’s 16 degrees, heading for a low of 6 tonight, with wind chill temperatures that will require those dreadful minus signs in front of them.

Nate_Adams_Jan12So instead I’m choosing to think about next summer, and I encourage you to do so too. Now, in the dead of winter, is a perfect time to start planning a summer missions experience.

Your church may already have a plan for sending one or more groups on mission trips outside your own community this year. Many churches in Illinois have adopted an Acts 1:8 strategy, and are seeking to send mission groups to serve nearby in their local association, as well as elsewhere in Illinois, North America and internationally. These are modern day equivalents of the “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the Ends of the Earth” mission fields that Jesus spoke of in His last words on earth.

If your church doesn’t yet have a mission trip planned for this summer, and especially if you have teenagers in your church, let me suggest one option where most of the planning has already been done for you. It’s called ChicaGO 2015, and it will be hosted July 26-31 on the campus of Judson University in Elgin. You can find more detailed information on the IBSA website, or by calling or
e-mailing Rachel Carter (217-391-3101 or Even if you only have two or three who can go, they will be quickly welcomed into the larger group.

During ChicaGO 2015, your group will be housed on the Judson campus there in Elgin, but during the days you will explore one or more of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods or diverse suburbs. Morning training sessions and evening worship experiences will allow you to meet some of the dynamic church planting missionaries that are seeking to advance the gospel in our nation’s third largest mission field. And during the day you will work right alongside them, and alongside other students and adults from Illinois churches that share your heart for advancing the gospel there.

Wherever you live in Illinois, ChicaGO 2015 is relatively nearby, and affordable. Planning and preparations for the week, such as meals and work projects, will have been done by IBSA before you get there. Participants can be both students and adults, and the environment is one that’s safe, and yet that will open your group’s eyes to the vast and diverse lostness that is Chicago.

You see, Chicago itself is a vortex, and not just in the winter. A vortex is defined either as a “whirling mass,” or simply as “something overwhelming.” That’s why, when the frigid air from the Arctic Circle whirls its way down into Illinois, we feel the overwhelming
brutality of its icy grip. But there is also a whirling mass of people in Chicago that are in the icy grip of lostness. Many have never heard the true gospel in a way they can understand, or from people that care enough to meet them where they are.

That’s why now, this winter, right in the middle of our polar vortex, is an ideal time to plan a summer mission trip. Perhaps you will join our church planters and me in the Chicago vortex next July. Or perhaps your church has identified a different vortex of lostness or two to enter. Last year more than 26,000 Illinois Baptists did. It warms my heart just to think about it.

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

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

It feels like I have had more than a few challenging days of ministry recently. But today is an especially good Sunday, and I’d like to tell you about it.

I leave home very early, to drive almost 200 miles to an IBSA church where I know the pastor, but have never attended on a Sunday morning. It’s their 70th anniversary, and I have a nice plaque from IBSA to present to them. In all those regards, it’s not really an unusual Sunday.

Nate_Adams_July28What’s a little more unusual is that my wife, Beth, is traveling with me. Our youngest son Ethan is leading the worship team at our home church in Springfield, and Beth would like to be there too. But by evening we will be at the church where our middle son Noah is youth pastor, and so she has decided to come along. So it’s already an especially good Sunday.

We drive past one, two, three IBSA churches, and eventually past the one where I recall speaking three years ago when my oldest son Caleb also shared his testimony. He had just returned to the Lord after years as a prodigal. And as I realize that today my wife is with me, and that all three of our sons are worshiping and serving in an IBSA church, I realize that this is an especially good Sunday.

At the church celebrating its 70th anniversary we are greeted warmly, with appreciation for both IBSA and for our long drive that morning. I watch as an effective pastor loves his people, and they love him back. I meet a 93-year-old former church planter and pastor, who tells me he helped plant one of the first SBC churches in northern Indiana. He’s surprised I don’t recognize his former supervisor’s name, until I remind him I wasn’t born yet.

Later when I’m presenting the plaque, I tell both the 93-year-old church planter and the 70-year-old church that my wife and I are on our way, after church, to IBSA’s first “ChicaGO” student camp at Judson University. It’s a pilot church planting camp that we hope will continue to produce church planters, church plants, and eventually 70-year-old churches. And as I describe this picture of church planting across the generations – I realize that this is an especially good Sunday.

We arrive at Judson University late in the afternoon, and help greet students and chaperones from 11 different IBSA churches. Then a bus-load of IBSA All State Youth Choir students unload, and I remember they are there for a couple of days too, to join the ChicaGO mission week, and share a couple of concerts in the area.

That night the choir sings at Calvary Baptist Church in Elgin. In addition to being my mom’s and son’s church, this is also the church where Wilma and Jack Booth are members. During the concert, IBSA Worship Director Steve Hamrick reminds us that Wilma was one of the leaders that started the IBSA All State Choir 36 years ago. And as I reflect on the blessing of tomorrow’s worship leaders being equipped for churches across the generations – I realize that this is an especially good Sunday.

I will have to wait until my next column to tell you about the “week in the life of church planters” that follows this special Sunday. But let me punctuate this account by telling you that as the All State Youth Choir led us in singing “Jesus Messiah,” I found my eyes welling up with tears. God was reminding me that, though there will be challenging days, He is steadfastly building churches and growing leaders across the state and across the generations here in Illinois. And whenever I can see that as clearly as I do today, well, it’s an especially good Sunday.

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

Nate_Adams_July7HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

We have a fairly small front porch. We don’t spend much time there, partly because we live on a cul-de-sac, and our front porch doesn’t offer much privacy. It looks directly into the yards, and lives, of several other families.

We spend much more time on our backyard deck. That’s where we can see most of our flowers and our garden. It’s where we grill during the summer time, and where we enjoy the privacy provided by a number of mature trees.

Last weekend, though, our son Caleb brought over his lawn trimmer to see if I could help him make it work, since it used to be my lawn trimmer. When he arrived, I met him on the front porch, and for some reason we sat down there to work on it. Soon my wife, Beth, joined us, and noted that the only other person who seemed to be outside that beautiful Saturday was our neighbor who has cancer. Let me call her Cindy.

Cindy was out tending to her beautiful front yard flowerbeds. Suddenly Beth exclaimed, “Oh my, Cindy just fell.” Caleb and I then looked up from our work, and saw Cindy lying on her sidewalk.

“Maybe she’s OK. Let’s see if she gets up,” we said. “We don’t want to embarrass her by running over there if she just lost her balance for a minute.”

But as we watched, Cindy just laid there for a few seconds. Then, with great effort, she raised one hand and began waving it slowly in the air.

We all then sprinted to her side. Cindy was relieved to see us, and asked if we would help her try to get up. She had fallen on her hip.

Our first, careful efforts to help her brought her so much pain that we all agreed we needed to leave her where she was and get some medical help. We found her husband inside, who called an ambulance and then scurried around to prepare to go with her to the hospital.

We stayed with Cindy for several minutes, comforting her until the ambulance arrived, and then assured both of them of our prayers. As she was rolled into the back of the ambulance, Cindy raised her hand once again, and softly said, “Thank you for seeing me and for coming to help. If you hadn’t, I think I would still be there.”

It has occurred to me many times since that day how unusual and providential it was that we were even in a position to help Cindy. Like so many, we seem to be backyard deck people more than front porch people.

And I have also been convicted how true that is spiritually, in our relationships with our neighbors. How many of the people we know are down and helpless, at the end of their ropes spiritually, and quietly waving one last hand in hope of help? Are we even in a position to see them? Or are we comfortable in our own backyards?

Many of the people we know who have deep spiritual needs don’t even know what or Who they need. Cindy didn’t. She just suddenly knew she was helpless. But because we were in that rare position to see her fall, we were able to play a small role in getting her the help needed.

This summer, let’s all spend more time on the front porch. Let’s look for the frail waves of the people around us. And let’s help them call on the One who can meet them right where they are. We may see their soft wave of gratitude in eternity.

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

HEARTLAND | This morning, read Psalm 68. Then think on these 25 attributes of God seen in the psalm, outlined by David Platt in a sermon at the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in Baltimore.

God is awesome.
God is active.

He subdues all who rebel against Him.
He satisfies all who trust in Him.

He is the One True God.
He is the covenant-keeping Lord.

God is father of the fatherless.
He is protector of the widow.
God loves the lonely.
He rescues the captive.
He provides for the needy.

God is sovereign over all nature.
He is sovereign over nations.

God is powerful above us.
God is present with us.

He commands a heavenly army.
He conquers an earthly victory.

God daily bears our burdens.
He ultimately saves our souls.
He is my God and King.
He is our God and King.

He draws peoples to Himself.
He deserves praise throughout the earth.
He is the divine warrior.

God speaks a dependable word.

For us, there are two implications, Platt said. Give glory to this God. And give your life to His mission.

My job and the Gospel

Meredith Flynn —  April 7, 2014

Carrie_Campbell_blog_calloutHEARTLAND | Carrie Campbell

Looking around my middle school classroom in Springfield, I’m struck by how different it is than where I was eight months ago, surrounded by the beautiful mountains of eastern Kentucky.

Or five months ago, when I was immersed in the bright and flashing lights of New York City.

After college, I decided to take a season of my life and do full-time ministry. I spent two years in Kentucky working with at-risk kids. I followed that up with a
few months in Brooklyn, learning about ministry in an urban context. I came back home to Illinois in November and felt called to live out a personal dream: becoming a teacher. I received an exciting job offer to teach current events to sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

My classroom isn’t as scenic as the mountains or the city, but it’s certainly a mission field.

Going from a mission-minded environment to a secular workplace was a big jump for me. In many ways it was one of my biggest life challenges. I went from being surrounded by those who have the same eternal goal in mind, to working with people who have lots of different goals. I quickly learned that the “harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” But God has given me opportunities to share the Gospel.

One of the first things I noticed among my co-workers was that the environment in my school was very negative. I started writing encouraging notes to the teachers on my team as well as the administrative staff. My coworkers quickly took notice of that and sought me out to talk about their struggles. A before-school prayer meeting started up again. People are more positive now. I realized that sharing the Gospel starts with the small things, and God can take those small things and transform a school.

The most valuable part of my job is getting to know my students and letting them know I care about their needs. Even though I’m not allowed to say, “Christ has a future for you,” I can give positive feedback and point them toward their strengths.

One student recently was placed in my room for a behavior problem. He quickly got bored, so I gave him the simple task of fixing my three-hole punch. He liked that I gave him some attention and that he was able to accomplish this task for me. We’ve had a positive relationship since then, and he knows that I care about him and want him to do better in school.

Even with the challenges this new workplace brings, I have been constantly reminded that Christ is in control, and that the real mission field lies in our schools and regular workplaces. People with needs are crying out and, for us who are Christians, being able to step into those places and bring the Gospel is an honor.

Carrie Campbell is a member of Delta Church in Springfield.

Baptist_hymnalHEARTLAND | Nate Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David_Jeremiah_blog_calloutHEARTLAND | David Jeremiah

“I apologize for the length of this letter but I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” That seemingly contradictory statement has been attributed to a number of great writers, but as far as I can tell, Blaise Pascal gets the earliest reference.

Regardless of who said it first, it’s one of the most intriguing statements you’ll ever read. The implication is that it is harder to write a short sentence than a long one. Why? Because it takes effort to eliminate all extraneous words diluting the meaning.

The Bible uses the shorter-is-better idea as well. The shortest verse I know of is one of the most profound: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) over Lazarus. Packed in those two words is the heartbreak and grief over the death of a friend. John, the writer, could have gone on and on about “why” Jesus wept. But he didn’t need to. Two words said it all.

As powerful as many short phrases are, I don’t know of a more important three-word phrase than “God loves you.”

I checked a handful of modern Bible translations and the phrase “God loves you” occurs only once in Scripture: Deuteronomy 23:5. And there, it is not a simple three-word sentence. It is offered as an explanation for why God protected Israel from the curses of the false prophet Balaam: “Ö the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you.”

“God loves you” is such an accurate summary of the entire redemptive message of the Bible that we can think of it as a biblically accurate statement. Jesus told His disciples, “for the Father Himself loves you. …” (John 16:27), and said that those who love Him (Jesus) “will be loved by My Father” (John 14:21). Yes, those “God loves you” statements are referring to believers in Christ, which I hope includes you.

Before considering who else is included in that short statement, let’s consider what “God loves you” means.

— First: “God.” Depending on your understanding of love, let me go out on a limb and say that this first word is a game changer. Why? Because God’s love is like no other love you (or I) have ever experienced. The Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). You can’t say that about anyone else in your life — your spouse, your Grandpa Bill, your favorite Aunt Minnie. No matter how much they love(d) you, their love is not the same as God’s love. On a given day, it might have been unconditional, even sacrificial. But every moment of every day of every month of every year? No way. Nobody loves like God. Right now, at this very moment, whether anyone else in this world does or not, GOD loves you.

— Second: “loves.” The Bible doesn’t use this image, but I like to imagine God’s love as being like Niagara Falls — with me standing right at the base, completely surrounded and engulfed by the never-ending flow of love all around me. The apostle Paul says in Romans 8:35-39 that nothing can separate me from that love. Nothing can stop the flow of that love upstream, and nothing can remove me from being engulfed in it. And the same is true for you. Right now, at this very moment, whether you realize it or not, God LOVES you.

— Third: “you.” We are so used to thinking in the world’s terms about love — whether we have earned love or deserve to be loved — that we have a hard time believing that God loves us. Right now, at this very moment, in spite of the fact that you feel unworthy of His love, God loves YOU.

The most well-known verse in the Bible affirms this love, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” To say “God loves you” is like saying “Here’s a gift.” You must reach out with hand and heart and accept the gift of His love in order for the power of that short statement to become a reality in your life. My prayer is that you will receive His love today.

David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, visit

Do you know Carol?

Meredith Flynn —  March 10, 2014

Guinea_boats_blogHEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

Mark Emerson had spent several hours on a boat off the coast of Guinea, looking for the Mbotini people group. It was getting late, and the group would eventually have to turn around. But Emerson had a good reason to find the Mbotini.

They were Carol Stewart’s people.

Before his trip in January, Emerson talked to Stewart about the people group she and her church adopted several years ago. Stewart, a member of Lincoln Avenue Baptist in Jacksonville, Ill., had visited Africa’s west coast. But still, it was surprising how many times
Emerson heard the question:

“Do you know Carol?”

From two missionaries and a local pastor, on the other side of the world. “This Illinois Baptist is known in Guinea because she went there in representation of her church,” Emerson said.

He’s hoping others will follow her example. The International Mission Board is calling congregations to be “engaging churches” who will adopt an unreached, unengaged people
group (UUPG) and send small teams several times a year.

Reaching unreached people groups will require a long-term investment. “This was my first mission trip I’d ever participated in that we didn’t win anyone to the Lord,” Emerson said of
his time in Guinea. Referencing William Carey, he said, “We forget that these hall of fame missionaries of the past spent years before they saw anyone come to the Lord.”

When he joined IBSA’s missions team, Emerson said he had a goal to get as many Illinois Baptists to the mission field as possible. Now, “I’m thinking we need to get the Gospel
where it’s not.”

Read more Africa stories in the newest issue of the Illinois Baptist newspaper, online here.

Nate_Adams_blog_callout_3HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

I’ve recently found myself in several different settings where I have been asked to help clarify what Baptists believe, and how those beliefs may be distinct or different from those of other groups. Sometimes the question comes from Christians of another faith background. Sometimes it’s from a non-Christian who wants to understand if his or her perception is accurate. Occasionally, those from a different Baptist denomination simply want to understand why all Baptists aren’t alike.

I have to admit, dialoguing with that latter group sometimes has made me wonder if we Baptists aren’t too quick to stand apart from one another, or to divide into different groups over relatively minor issues. But in most cases, looking for the reasons that we stand apart as Baptists makes me glad that we do.

Late last year, my more frequent conversations along these lines led me to set aside 18 weeks of our weekly chapel at the IBSA building, and to devote one week to each of the articles in The Baptist Faith & Message. We only have 30-45 minutes for chapel, which includes worship and prayer. So we did not do an in-depth study. But each week, I asked the staff to look at a different article from The Baptist Faith & Message, and to ask with me, “What is distinct here? How are Southern Baptists different from other groups, even other conservative, Christian groups?”

Our staff agreed it was a helpful and enlightening exercise. Often we found ourselves saying, “Well, many Christians believe that, or certainly most conservative or evangelical Christians would say something similar to that.” But every week, on almost every doctrinal topic, we also found ourselves identifying distinct beliefs or practices that make our Baptist faith and message meaningfully unique.

After the chapel series was over, I sat down with my notes and jotted my own personal summary of the Baptist beliefs that, to me, seem to differentiate Baptists from others. This list will help me summarize our Baptist identity when I am asked to do so. And, with great love and respect for my many Christian and evangelical friends from other denominations, these are the reasons I will always look for a Baptist church when I move to a new town, or when I choose to declare a doctrinal identity.

My list didn’t simply include a high view of Scripture, or faith in Jesus as the only way to salvation, or a literal resurrection and second coming, because many Christians share those beliefs. But it did include things like believer’s baptism, by immersion and symbolic. It included local church autonomy and congregational governance, combined with passionate, organized cooperation in missions. And it included belief in eternal security, biblical marriage, and personal responsibility for evangelism.

This rich discussion of “What does it mean to be Baptist, and does it really matter?” has also contributed to the creation of a new feature, beginning in this issue of the Illinois Baptist. You will find it on pages 9 and 10. This new “Baptist 101” section will help clarify and reinforce what it means today to be Baptist, not just doctrinally, but also in cooperative missions endeavors and practical church matters. In fact, I hope it will help all of us who read the Illinois Baptist become more articulate proponents of Baptist, evangelical, Christian faith.

Of course the autonomous nature of Baptist churches and people makes it impossible, even undesirable, to try and paint everyone with the same broad stroke. Baptists are a diverse group! But while we are not uniform, we are strangely, almost miraculously, unified. Our best understanding of the Bible has led us to stand, with humility and respect for others I trust, on core Baptist beliefs and practices. If we believe these are important enough to protect and
preserve for our children and grandchildren, then we must continue to understand them and articulate them for others. Across the centuries, and I believe now and into the future, Baptist faith matters.

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