Archives For Heath Tibbetts

By Heath Tibbetts

I was supposed to die on a Tuesday in 1977. My 15-year-old mother had been scheduled to have an abortion despite her objections, leading her into the high school counselor’s office the Monday before that dreaded appointment. After hearing my mother’s story, Mr. Sheets called her mother attempting some mediation away from abortion, but to no avail. He hung up the phone and asked my mom two questions.

“You plan to keep this baby, correct? You know you may not be going home tonight?”
To both questions the brave 15-year-old responded, “Whatever it takes.”

Mom lived in a few foster homes around town for the next several months before and after my birth. She continued to go to school and wrestled with the idea of adoption. As the due date drew closer, she had decided to keep her baby and to be able to support herself within a year, which she did. Many people claimed my arrival would ruin her future, but she couldn’t bring herself to end an innocent life to correct a previous mistake. My mom wasn’t a Christian then, but she had no difficulty recognizing her unborn child as a life.

Leading on life
Moses concluded his leadership of Israel by giving them a final call to pursue God diligently. He gives the people two choices: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deut. 30:19). As leader to the people, he called them to choose life for their sake and the sake of future generations.

Our leadership today pales in comparison on the issue of life. In our state and across the country, officials work toward the expansion of abortion rights, like the law passed recently in New York that allows abortion up until birth. What leads people to applaud such a law? They have forgotten the value of human life.

America has long struggled to properly apply that wonderful statement from our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” If this truth was self-evident, how did we refuse rights to the thousands of black slaves already spread throughout the colonies? The short answer is convenience. It was more convenient to exclude any mention of slavery from the Declaration, and later the Constitution, in order to unite the various states in one nation.

Issues of convenience continue to devalue life today. Abortion advocates regularly declare their concern for the health of the mother, but the top reasons for abortion in 2013 (as published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information) were “not financially prepared” and “bad timing.” Abortion is too often a procedure of convenience.

But the emotional scars carried by men and women who make this choice are anything but convenient. For years I couldn’t understand why I was my grandmother’s favorite grandchild. I’m not being a narcissist; everyone knew it was true. Only later did I learn Mom’s story and my grandmother’s role in it. My grandmother dealt with the guilt of even suggesting an abortion for decades after I was born, trying to make it up to me my whole childhood. Being able to tell her as an adult that I forgave her was probably the best gift she’s ever received from me.

“Pro-life” is being rebranded by opponents as “anti-choice,” but nothing could be further from the truth. I support every women’s right to choose avoiding sex if she’s not ready for a child. Children are rarely convenient. Even the married couple intentionally trying to bring children into their family quickly finds the dynamics of life and relationship have changed. Yet any parent will tell you these little lives are worth it.

The rest of the story
My mom was able to introduce me to her former high school counselor, Mr. Sheets, in 2002. I found myself imagining how his Monday changed when Mom walked into his office. What if he had been out sick that day or had decided not to get involved in a messy family situation? Mr. Sheets was the advocate that encouraged her to choose life, a life that became the first in my mother’s family to go to college, partnered to create the three coolest kids ever and has been used to impact lives, souls, and churches.

I often thank God for allowing me to escape the abortionist that Tuesday in 1977. My hope is to be an advocate for every unborn life in some way, attempting to convince people that every pregnancy is a creation of the Creator. I was not a choice. I am a life and every life matters.

Heath Tibbetts pastors First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.

Cultivate spiritual health

ib2newseditor —  February 9, 2017

tibbettsTimes of ministry burnout are coming, Heath Tibbetts told leaders gathered in Springfield for the Illinois Leadership Summit. So are areas of weakness. But there is a way to prepare for those inevitable difficulties, said the pastor of First Baptist Church in Machesney Park.

“Spiritual build-up prepares us for burnout and blind spots that we know are on the horizon,” Tibbetts said during his breakout session on the spiritual health of a leader.

One warning sign that spiritual build-up may be lacking, Tibbetts said, is reacting poorly to challenges. There was a time, he said, when his church didn’t plan for occasional obstacles, like losing a Sunday school teacher or facing a bill they couldn’t afford to pay. Leaders can fail to prepare in the same way, if they allow their current plans and level of knowledge to be enough.

“Visionless ministry punches the clock.”

So, how can a leader make sure his or her spiritual health is strong? Tibbetts suggested several ideas, including coaching from other leaders. He recently starting a mentoring relationship with a pastor in another part of the country, which started when Tibbetts read a magazine article about how the other church was utilizing facility space and e-mailed the pastor a question.

There’s also a need for trusted friends who can ask questions like, “How’s your relationship with your wife?” Tibbetts added.

Building oneself up spiritually also comes from time with God himself, he reminded his audience. “Personal devotion is one of the easiest things to let slip in your life.” As a pastor, if sermon preparation is the only study he does, Tibbetts said, and if he isn’t spending devotion time in other parts of Scripture, not only will the sermon be lacking, but he’ll also be missing a valuable build-up opportunity.

When ministry burnout does come, Tibbetts said, there are ways to confront it. Unplug, and “say no a lot.” Leaders need to remember their vision for ministry, even apart from what they are currently doing. “Visionless ministry punches the clock,” Tibbetts said, asking leaders to identify, What defines you separately from your ministry?

And keep building up. Tibbetts said a man in his church recently waited two months to call him for a counseling appointment, because he knew his pastor would ask about his spiritual life, and he wanted to make sure he was reading his Bible. If you’re confronting burnout, Tibbetts said, schedule more times of prayer.


Heath_Tibbetts_blog_calloutCOMMENTARY | Heath Tibbetts

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42

Baptist prayer lists are where requests go to die. How many times have you looked at the prayer list at your church and said, “Who’s that person?”
Most of us have come across the request that was once pressing and now forgotten. Oft times I have asked someone about a previous request, only to watch them stare at me blankly. I suddenly realize I’ve prayed about their request more than they have.

The problem isn’t really with the prayer list, but our listless prayers.

The early believers in Jerusalem devoted themselves to many areas that Southern Baptists pride ourselves on today. We are known for our devotion to strong biblical teaching and to friendly, fried fellowships. But how devoted are we in our personal
prayer lives?

We can never have a praying church without a praying membership.

The word “devoted” in Acts 2:42 indicates the church prayed with expectation and then waited for results. Many of these new believers had rarely heard prayer outside the temple and now they had direct access to the Father through Jesus, their great high priest. Prayer was now powerful and personal and they became praying people building a praying church.

It still happens today. As we watch from half a world away, Ukraine is mired in difficult days. And yet IMB worker Shannon Ford, who lives in the capital city of Kiev, gives this report: “The response from the churches has been fantastic. It really has been a time for prayer – not simply saying we’re going to pray, but actually going and being seen and guiding other people to pray.”

This is the work of the church. God didn’t call us to be a house of activity, but a house of prayer in Isaiah 56:7. Churches must begin praying with expectation, waiting to see God move. The great call of the church is to call on God.

So, how do we make this shift, and how can we tell if we’re even getting close?

First, we must never assume people in our churches are praying. Luke 11:1 tells us of Jesus completing His prayer time and being asked by his disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray.” These were guys who had grown up in church, and they had no idea how to talk to God.

Ask people about their prayer lives, and encourage them by praying with them and for them. I’ve even found sending a quick text, Facebook message, or e-mail can be a great way to encourage fellow believers to make time for prayer.

And secondly, pray! I believe we should see prayer going on all over the church. I was greatly encouraged a few weeks ago when I saw a hurting family being prayed for by one of our church leaders in the hallway. This needs to happen more. Stop saying, “I’ll pray for you,” and instead say, “Let’s pray.”

The greatest encouragement I can provide as you examine your own church is in Romans 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too
deep for words.”

Even a praying church is a credit to the work of God.

Don’t just take prayer requests, but truly pray. Let people know you’re praying for them, and take the opportunity to rejoice together when God moves in a request. Let us no longer pray because it’s scheduled, but because we’re moved. And watch us make that subtle, but powerful, turn from a church that prays to a praying church!

Heath Tibbetts is pastor of FBC Machesney Park, Ill.

Study kits are great tools, but they don’t make disciples

COMMENTARY | Heath Tibbetts

Discipleship doesn’t come in a box. Lessons come in boxes, neatly packageHeath_Tibbettsd with DVDs and participant guides. And for years, discipleship to me was the newest lessons from great teachers. It was all I had ever known, until God called me to a church outside the Bible Belt.

Our Southern Baptist church in Pennsylvania was mainly comprised of former Catholics, Methodists, or unchurched people. Many in our congregation
came from a background where they had never been encouraged to read the Bible. One former Catholic who joined told me, “Our priest said if we ever needed to know something from Scripture, he’d tell us.” It became quickly apparent that doing discipleship the same old way wasn’t going to work.

And then I began to ask myself a tougher question: Did it ever work?

Much of our discipleship today fails because of a lack of biblical literacy. We have assumed for so long that those within our congregations are having a personal devotional time of some sort because they’re Christians. The reality is that many lack this important time with the Lord, not because they don’t love God, but because they were never discipled on how to do it.

So we scrapped our random discipleship efforts in Pennsylvania. We canceled all the classes, not because the subjects or teachers were bad, but because there was no fruit. Our pastoral staff and wives established discipleship groups. We didn’t promote them in the bulletin, but as individual leaders we identified potential future disciple makers. We established these as regular groups, meeting at least on a monthly basis. We prayed together, ate  together, and studied the Bible together. As group leaders, we did this to make disciples who would make disciples.

When God called our family to northern Illinois this year, I had the opportunity to step back and look at my group. Corey had been silent and plagued with guilt over his lack of depth as a believer. He’s now the leader of the group, and a new deacon in the church. Matt was becoming serious about studying the Bible, but often unwilling to commit. He’s now leading the youth ministry since my departure and learning to be a doer. And after two years, another man finally left the comfort of those friends to invest in a new group, where he will pass along the lessons of personal discipleship he learned.

Jesus’ earthly ministry over a three-year stretch was marked by twelve disciples. That ministry would barely register a blip on the radar of many church leaders today because of its humble beginnings. But as a result of Jesus’ personal investment in those men, churches were started, the Gospel spread, and many were saved. Jesus gave us a simple model: love them then lead them. This is the lesson I am now living out.

Here at First Baptist Church in Machesney Park, Ill., there are many dreams I have for our church. I dream of a church that is debt-free. I dream of a church that is focused outside of our walls. I dream of a church where our people live in a passionate relationship with their Savior. And all those dreams are tied to personal discipleship.

Disciples will give, disciples will go, and disciples will grow. But for these dreams to become reality, I must set the example as pastor. So I will invest in the lives of our people, finding those who can be grown not only as disciples, but disciple makers. It will grow our First family closer to God and each other.

Christ called us in Matthew 28:19 to “Go therefore and make disciples.” Andy Stanley and Beth Moore are great teachers, but they can’t make disciples for you. Discipleship requires personal investment that a box cannot provide. I challenge you to examine discipleship in your church. How can you personally invest in the lives of your church family such that you will make disciples who make disciples?

Heath Tibbetts is pastor of FBC Machesney Park, Ill.