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Illinois Baptist State Association

Somebody’s prayin’

ib2newseditor —  October 2, 2017

Pray button

After my dad’s mother died, I remember him saying that he physically felt the absence of her prayers. Dad had, in some ways, a challenging personality for pastoring. He was introverted, in many ways non-assertive, a quiet thinker and reader who scripted his sermons by hand so that he could deliver them effectively.

So, if you only knew my dad personally, you may have been surprised when you first saw him step into the pulpit, or witnessed him in some other pastoral role. He was wise, articulate, bold, insightful, truly helpful. As a pastor, he was supernaturally equipped for the role to which God had called him, in a way that eclipsed his natural limitations. And I believe this was supernaturally sustained by the devoted prayers of people who supported him over the years, his mother and my mother chief among them.

Our pastors need our sincere and earnest prayer. They need us to intercede spiritually for them, every bit as much as they need us to support them in leading the ministries of our church. Not all pastors face the same challenges that my dad did, but all of them face their own unique struggles and obstacles. If it is primarily those closest to them that sustain them in prayer, just think what could happen with an entire church earnestly praying.

Pastors need our sincere and earnest intercession.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. If this is not already your practice, let me encourage you to take the month of October to pray for your pastor, and perhaps other pastors you know, daily. At the IBSA.org website, there will be a daily prayer guide to assist you in that discipline.

You will not be alone. Throughout October, our IBSA staff will be praying for every IBSA church pastor, by name. We are also asking for specific prayer requests by e-mail, and personally calling more than 300 pastors for whom we don’t have a current e-mail address, to ask them how we can pray.

I hope many pastors will share specific prayer needs, perhaps some that are difficult to share with church members, and will allow us to pray for them personally in this way. For those from whom we don’t receive specific requests, we will simply use the prayer guide to pray for each pastor.

Many churches give gifts and other expressions of love to their pastors during October. Prayer, especially consistent, daily prayer, is one of the greatest appreciation gifts you can give. When something “appreciates,” it increases in value. And I believe that the sincere, consistent prayers of a congregation will “increase the value” of a pastor more than anything else. And by the way, that’s true even when you may personally struggle with your pastor!

In a recent IBSA chapel, we were talking about praying for pastors. Our state worship director, Steve Hamrick, shared about his dad, also a pastor, who prayed for him daily throughout his ministry. When his dad passed away a few years ago, his father-in-law noted at the funeral how special that prayer relationship was, and committed to him to take up the privilege of praying for Steve from that day forward.

During that same chapel, Steve led us in singing the old Ricky Skaggs song, “Somebody’s Prayin’.” The first two lines of that song are simply, “Somebody’s prayin’, I can feel it. Somebody’s prayin’ for me.”

IBSA pastors, I will be one of those somebodies praying for you throughout the month of October, along with every member of our staff. I hope you “feel” it in the same way that my dad did from his mom. And I hope you will feel it from many faithful church members as well.

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

Marci Coble

Standing outside their Chicago condo, Marci is holding a photo of her grandparents. Her grandfather, Maurice Swinford, led church development for IBSA and ultimately served as executive director.

The strategy is simple. Lost people know lost people. They hang out with lost people. If you lead one lost person to faith in Christ, suddenly you have broken into a whole new circle of people who need Jesus. And the most effective witness to the gospel is someone whose life has been changed by salvation in Jesus Christ—especially if it’s happened recently.

That’s why the Illinois Baptist State Association continues to invest in church planting as an important and effective strategy for evangelism. There are lots of places in a state of 13 million people where there is little or no evangelical witness.

IBSA is identifying 200 places and peoples that need Jesus. With at least 8 million lost people living just next door, it won’t be hard to put those pins on the map. For Bryan and Marci Coble, that pin landed in the Irving Park area of Chicago, far away and far different from her small hometown in Chatham.

Marci Coble was raised near Springfield under a strong Baptist influence. Her grandfather, Maurice Swinford, was on IBSA’s staff 15 years and served as executive director from 1988 to 1993. “He was always making sure I knew who Jesus is,” Marci says with a tear in her eye. She was a GA and Acteen, and worked one summer at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp.

“I was allotted a lot of opportunities and a lot of blessings that I probably wouldn’t have had without his influence and without being his granddaughter—even my call to missions.”

She is almost as emotional describing Chatham Baptist Church. “I grew up there, I was baptized there,” Marci says. “Bryan and I were married there. They shaped me and molded me and I’m blessed to call that my home.”

So when Marci’s husband, Bryan, suggested when he finished his seminary studies that they move to Portland, Ore., to plant a new church, Marci’s brows furrowed. She was willing to go wherever God led them—in fact, they visited the Pacific Northwest on a vision tour—but might God lead them to Chicago?

“Bryan had set up an appointment in Portland. And we received a note from my grandmother with an article from IBSA letting us know they need church planters in Illinois too.” Marci laughed. “And we were like, ‘Oh, that’s so sweet. I love Grandma.’” But the message stuck.

“I didn’t want to come to Chicago,” Bryan readily confesses. “I was raised 60 miles south of St. Louis and grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan. When we started to pray about Chicago, God actually told me—this may sound crazy,” he says as an aside, “to get a Chicago Cubs hat and wear it for 30 days.”

Bryan shifts the Cubs hat on his head, as if he’s adjusting to the fit.

“My heart started to change,” the Missouri transplant says as a smile breaks out. “My love for this city and my burden for this city started to grow. We love this city so much. We love the people of this city so much,” he says.

A similar feeling started growing back in Chatham, Marci’s home church in suburban Springfield. The town of 11,000 is one-seventh the size of the Cobles’ new neighborhood. And for the church members there, Chicago has seemed like someone else’s responsibility.

“To be honest with you, Chicago has always seemed very distant to us,” says Pastor Milton Bost. But having a hometown girl serving as a missionary in the big city has changed things.

“I think Bryan and Marci are kind of pioneers for us,” Bost says.

Chatham has become heavily involved in the Cobles’ planting work 200 miles away. “Folks from Chatham came up to help us do this,” Bryan says on a rainy Saturday morning in April. A children’s playground in the center of their neighborhood is also the epicenter of their planting work. “(We) hand out flyers, hand out cookies, talk to people, build relationships.” The park is covered in people wearing green T-shirts declaring their love for the area.

“We want the community to know that we love them, we’re here to invest in them first and foremost,” Marci says.

The couple moved their two boys there last year—in time for the Cubs’ World Series win. They began surveying the city and seeking God’s direction. In the spring the Cobles bought a small condo in a pre-war three-floor building, and started meeting the neighbors—Hispanics, Anglos, and some Asian people. Their goal is to launch a Bible study, then a church, in the recreation building at the park.

“Chicago is a world city. It has high influence not just within the state of Illinois, but in the world,” Bryan says. “We need to be able to reach these people with the gospel. We do it in love, so that they will hopefully come to know Christ and be changed by the gospel. And the world with them.”

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offer and Week of Prayer September 10-17 at www.MissionIllinois.org.

Watch the video, “A Heart for the City.”

 

 

 

 

The power of one

ib2newseditor —  February 13, 2017

red leaves church steeple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Faith Frontier

ib2newseditor —  October 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offering Day

ib2newseditor —  September 18, 2016

Mission Illinois Offering  Week of Prayer Day 8

MIO-box-smallToday many churches across the state will collect the Mission Illinois Offering. With a goal of $475,000, the ministries in this prayer guide depend on faithful giving in order to continue reaching people for Christ. The Mission Illinois Offering is the most direct channel through which Illinois Baptists can fund mission work close to home and really invest in the things important to us here.

Mission Illinois encourages the work of local congregations, is built on solid Baptist doctrine, and helps share Christ in every setting where IBSA missionaries serve. Missions giving through this offering helps equip and mobilize people to reach our specific mission field—the lost and unreached people in Illinois.

Pray for IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams and all the missionaries and staff of IBSA. Pray for generous giving during your own church’s offering for state missions.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering

Watch Nate Adams’ video, “Turn on the light.”

Raising the bar

ib2newseditor —  August 8, 2016

A pastor with a past returns home to share the good news that changed his life. But, where will his new church meet?

Ignite Church

Ignite Church gathers for Sunday morning worship.

On Sunday morning, Leah Hart is on a brightly lit platform singing a current praise song in a strong voice, backed by guitar, keyboard, and drums. A crowd of about 60 people singing with her picks up on the lyrics which are new to many of them. Some are seated on high stools at pub tables, and no one seems to notice the neon beer signs on the walls or the giant horseshoe-shaped bar behind them.

“I can’t believe how well a bar is set up to be used as a church,” said Levi Hart, Leah’s husband. “It’s a sports bar/concert venue. You see the bar and all the liquor bottles and all that, then all over the place you see things saying ‘Ignite Church.’”

Levi is describing Big Stix, the establishment in his hometown where he and Leah are planting a church. “And you see a bunch of people there for a completely different purpose than the night before, when it was packed full of people getting drunk.”

Levi nods and chuckles a little. He’s still amazed that it’s working, this new church plant that turns a bar into a sanctuary on Sunday morning. It’s working very well.

Since the Harts began holding services in March, more than 20 people have accepted Christ. The church has held two baptism services using a horse trough on the concrete floor in front of the stage.

“I said, ‘Ah, that’s not gonna work. My house got raided in Breese.’ I thought there’s no way, you know.”

Ignite Church is one of 17 new churches started in Illinois so far this year. IBSA helped plant 23 new churches in 2015, and at any given time, there are as many as 80 church planters in the process of starting new congregations in the state. Their work is supported in part by giving through the Mission Illinois Offering.

While national partners target the cities in particular, IBSA also is planting outside the large metro areas.

“We are finding that many of the smaller and more rural communities in Illinois have less gospel presence now than they did 20 or 30 years ago,” said Van Kicklighter, head of church planting for IBSA. “In many places, the mainline churches that once served these communities are closing their doors, leaving a real void and opportunity for gospel-preaching churches to be planted.”

At issue is having planters and funds to support them, Kicklighter said. “We have far more opportunities for planting churches in the smaller communities of Illinois than we have leaders and churches willing to go there and plant their lives.”

And that makes Levi Hart’s story even more special.

What about Breese?
Levi wasn’t sure his idea would work—and for good reason. “I asked my wife, ‘Leah, do you think we should plant a church?’” Levi was serving as a youth minister in a nearby town at the time and feeling a call to something more.

“She said, ‘Yeah, yeah, absolutely. What about Breese?’”

“I said, ‘Ah, that’s not gonna work. My house got raided in Breese.’ I thought there’s no way, you know.”

No way, because it was in Breese that Levi fell into alcohol and drug abuse as a teenager. It was in Breese that Levi was arrested for selling drugs. And it was in Breese that Levi earned a reputation.

But jailed and facing up to five years in prison, Levi entered rehab and started attending a Bible study. There he heard the gospel. The Bible study leader confronted him.

“I hit my knees and asked for forgiveness for everything for the first time in my life,” Levi said. “I woke up the next day a new creation!”

“I hit my knees and asked for forgiveness for everything for the first time in my life,” Levi said. “I woke up the next day a new creation!”

Now 26, the young man grins and nods as he says the words. Levi is still amazed that God would call him back here to be a pastor and plant a church.

Hometown heroics

Hart Family

The Hart Family

Breese is a small town of about 4,500 about 30 miles east of St. Louis. In the surrounding area, there are almost 20,000 residents, but only a handful of churches. Breese has two Protestant churches. For such a small place, it’s a party town, according to Levi. For the young people, there’s not much else to do.

“What’s missing in Breese is the gospel,” he said. That’s why he’s burdened for the people who live there. “It’s basically an unreached people group. There’s like 98% of the people here who don’t know Jesus.”

So a church that meets in a bar shouldn’t be a surprise.

“He’s going where the people are, going to his context,” said Eddie Pullen, IBSA’s church planting strategist in the Metro East region. “He’s reaching people who have no exposure at all to the gospel.”

As an IBSA specialist in church planting, Pullen helps new pastors navigate the challenges of starting a church. Pullen draws from his own experience.

He planted Mosaic Church in nearby Highland and serves as its teaching pastor. Mosaic is the sponsoring congregation for the Harts’
ministry.

“We’re grateful to be a part of it,” Pullen said, getting misty-eyed. “He causes a thirst for people who may not know they’re thirsty.”

Or, amid the bottles and signs, what they’re really thirsting for.

Living water and holy fire
The bar is closed on Mondays. That’s when Levi leads a Bible study.

After a family-style dinner, the children go next door to an area the bar’s owner has allowed them to renovate for nursery, classroom, and office space. Leah and several of her family members teach the children’s Bible study in rooms painted with animals parading into Noah’s Ark, while Levi opens the Scriptures for their parents.

On this night, one man asks a couple of questions revealing this material is new to him. Levi lays aside his teaching plan and for nearly an hour shares a clear presentation of the gospel, focusing on sin, the cross, and salvation in Jesus Christ. He shares some of his own story along the way. The man listens attentively.

Levi expected to reach people his own age, but “what happened is we have a large group of 35- to 55-year-olds. A lot of people that age around here are hungry for something more.”
Today in Breese, Levi and Leah are fanning the flames of the gospel through their ministry at Ignite Church. “You know,” he said, “that’s what I want our church to do…ignite a fire…and see lives changed.”

Watch Levi’s story at missionillinois.org.

It’s time to speak up

ib2newseditor —  August 3, 2016

Adron RobinsonThe week of July 4, 2016, was a very dark week in America. It began with my wife and me celebrating Independence Day with our family and watching the local fireworks display. But there would be a different type of fireworks in the days to come.

On July 5, a Baton Rouge police officer pinned down Alton Sterling and shot him several times while he was on the ground, killing him in front of witnesses.

The very next day in Minnesota, Philando Castile was pulled over in a routine traffic stop and shot multiple times by a police officer. Castile’s girlfriend videotaped the aftermath of the shooting and broadcast it live on Facebook for the world to see.

If those incidents weren’t enough, on July 7, at the end of a peaceful protest of these killings, an armed gunman ambushed Dallas police officers, killing five and wounding seven others.

How can the church remain silent when the sin of racism is screaming so loudly?

It truly was a dark week in America. As I sat at my desk praying about how to process these events and address these issues with my congregation, God led me to Matthew 5:13-16.

We live in a dark and decaying world, and the darker the world gets, the more it needs the church to be salt and light. Light shines brightest in darkness, and God has providentially placed the local church in the community to shine the light of the gospel to a world that desperately needs that light.

The killings of African Americans at the hands of police officers, and the denial of justice to the families of those slain, reveal the high level of personal and institutional racism in America.

The truth of the matter is that an encounter with the police is a life or death matter for many people of color in America. We pull over praying. Praying that the officer who stops us will uphold the law and not manipulate it to cover up his own racial prejudice. Praying that we will be treated the same way every other citizen of this country is treated. But most of all, we are praying that we are not killed by the very people our taxes pay to serve and protect us.

This is not the experience of my non-minority brothers and sisters. And it should not be the experience of anyone created in the image of God.

My question is, how can the church remain silent, when the sin of racism is screaming so loudly? How can we stand by as injustice continues against those we say are our brothers and sisters in Christ?

We cannot remain silent. In order for there to be change in our culture, the church must stop being silent and step up and be the church. In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus calls us to be counter-cultural Christians. This means the church is called to influence our culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christians and only Christians are the salt of the earth. Christians and only Christians are the light of the world. Christians and Christians alone are responsible for stopping corruption and slowing down the decay of this world.

Notice Jesus did not say “you and the government,” “you and the police department,” or “you and the Supreme Court.” There is only one hope for this world, and that hope is in people of God preventing decay and penetrating darkness.

We need to stop making excuses, stop being divided, stop being deceived by the darkness of this culture, and begin shining the light of righteousness and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We will never overcome a hateful world unless we learn to love one another.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we cannot remain silent as our neighbors are being slain in the streets. And we must address the racism in our world, even if it is in our own hearts.

In Acts 10:34, Peter says, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.”

I pray that soon and very soon, the church would do the same.

– Adron Robinson is senior pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and vice president of IBSA.