Archives For Illinois Baptist churches

By Meredith Flynn

Baptism

Romanian Baptist Church of Chicago and Pastor Adrian Neiconi (center) celebrated baptisms in April, joining a statewide, month-long focus on evangelism. More than 700 people were baptized in April, including 271 on Easter Sunday alone.

Pat Pajak gestures to a small piece of paper filled with neat script. Each line is the name of a different IBSA pastor or church that has called him to report baptisms in the month of April. On one car ride alone in the middle of the month, he talked to three leaders who were celebrating people who had come to faith in Christ and followed their decisions with baptism.

One GRAND Month, marked in churches around the state in April, was, in a word, grand. Churches reported more than 700 baptisms during the month, and Pajak is still getting reports. And churches are still baptizing. Several pastors have said the April emphasis on evangelism resulted in professions of faith and people wanting to be baptized.

“How in the world are we going to reach 8.5 million people?” Pajak knows the question is overwhelming, especially when estimates say the state has around a hundred times more people who don’t know Christ than Southern Baptists.

If One GRAND Month did anything, he says, it alerted church members to the fact that people all around them are living without a relationship with Christ. “It’s a daunting task if you allow Satan to convince you that it can’t be done. You just say, ‘Let’s give up. Let’s not try.’”

But hundreds of churches took up the challenge in April, baptizing 271 people on Easter Sunday and 443 the rest of the month, for a total of 714. Pajak notes that if IBSA churches baptized 700 people every month for a year, it would more than double the number of baptisms reported last year.

“It has alerted people to the necessity of sharing their faith, and that it’s not just the pastor. He’s one guy in a whole town. Think about what happens if 35 or 40 people decide, ‘You know what, I can do that.’

“It’s the only way we’re going to reach 8.5 million people in Illinois.”

Change of venue, change of hearts
On their first Sunday in a new building, Grace Church in Metropolis baptized two people in a donated cattle trough. A young man sitting in the congregation heard the invitation to respond to the gospel and did so. He was baptized two weeks later, along with four others.

“We had a big ole day,” said Pastor Chris Sielbeck, who started the church two years ago in the front room of his home.

Grace met at the Union Baptist Association office for more than a year, and had been praying about a building when Sielbeck began to focus on a place he passed every Sunday. On a day off from his job with the U.S. Postal Service, the pastor began to research the building he thought would be perfect for a church. A local CPA owned the building, and Sielbeck dropped in to ask whether the owner would consider allowing a church to meet there.

“We’re a small church, we don’t have any money, and I need it for free,” Sielbeck pitched. “And he said, ‘I can do that.’” The church baptized two people their first morning in the building, and one the next week. Plus five more on the first Sunday in May.

When Sielbeck went to a farm supply store to purchase a $300 trough for the baptism, he ran into a sales representative for the manufacturer in the parking lot. The rep followed him inside, where he gave Grace a generous gift. Standing at the register, Sielbeck remembered, the man said, “I’m going to buy that for that church.”

‘Jesus steps in’
At Marshall Missionary Baptist Church, Pastor Paul Cooper baptized nine people in April. And five more on the first Sunday in May.

“It’s not normal for us,” said Cooper, whose church moved into a former Walmart building two years ago. “I think we had 15 baptisms for the year last year, and last year was higher than most years. Having 14 in basically a one-month period is pretty amazing.”

Marshall is the last stop on Interstate 70 before you cross into Indiana. There aren’t a lot of younger adults in the community, Marshall said, but several of the people baptized at his church the last few weeks are in their 20s. Michael Mattingly and Ranae Clements were baptized Easter Sunday. The engaged couple shared video of their baptisms on social media, celebrating their life transformation with family and friends.

Just weeks prior, Clements was a Christian who had moved away from the church and Mattingly doubted the existence of God. She attended a conference where her faith was reignited, and she also met a member of the Marshall church. Mattingly agreed to attend the church with his fiancé to be supportive. He arrived at church on the Sunday Cooper was set to preach “Jesus steps into your doubts.”

“My whole sermon was about how it’s okay to have doubts,” Cooper said. “God will speak into that, and Jesus will show up.”

When he gave the invitation at the end of the service, the pastor asked people who had prayed to receive Christ to raise their hands. Mattingly’s was one of the hands raised. A few weeks later, on Easter, he and Clements were baptized.

“There’s a sense of anticipation in the church,” Cooper said. “God’s doing things, and God’s reaching people, and people just want to share that. A lot of our new people have gotten really excited, and then they share it, and it keeps kind of multiplying right now.”
After he baptized Mattingly, Cooper asked if he wanted to say anything. The young man responded simply.

“Jesus is Lord.”

New beginnings

Lisa Misner —  April 22, 2019

Streator churches merge for the sake of their town

By Andrew Woodrow

New Start

The members of two Streator churches credit God with uniting their congregations under a new name: New Beginnings.

When Mike Young first laid eyes on Streator in 2016, he saw a small prairie town in the midst of vast farmland. But he also saw a community in great need of the gospel. Young, who moved to town to manage IBSA’s northern Illinois camp facility, soon discovered that much of Streator was still unchurched. He started praying God would raise up a church to fill that void.

Mike Young

Mike Young

When Young started looking for a church to join, there was one that caught his eye every time he’d go into town. “I would pass a church right on the edge of town called Calvary Baptist,” he said. “The building looked rough, and there were bushes growing all around it. It just looked like it was closing down.” Many people in town confirmed what Young had thought—that the church was on its way out.

Still, every time he passed Calvary, something kept tugging at his heart.
Struggling churches

“Calvary Baptist Church was a long-standing church in the community,” said Mike Blakemore. “It goes way back into the ‘50s, I believe.”

Blakemore and his wife started attending Calvary in the early 2000s; he eventually became an elder. “It was a great church, great pastor, great fellowship,” Blakemore said. But after their pastor retired, “that’s when the struggle began.”

The Southern Baptist church went through a series of interims and people just to fill the pulpit, and Calvary’s numbers started dwindling. Soon, wear-and-tear to the church’s building became evident, with mold growing inside the walls and roof.

By the end of 2015, with finances running low and numbers still dropping, the auditorium ceiling caved in after a severe hailstorm. “After much prayer and a lot of discussion, we decided to vacate the building,” Blakemore said.

A few miles away, Streator’s First Baptist Church had its own problems. The Conservative Baptist church was founded not long after Streator was incorporated in 1868. Longtime member Linda Abbot speaks fondly of her church. “I have a great, great grandfather who helped start this church,” she said. “My mother was part of this church. And when I was born, I was brought into it as well. I’ve been here ever since.”

At 13, she dedicated her life to Christ at the church. She brought her childhood sweetheart, Ken, to First Baptist where he, too, came to know Christ and eventually became an elder. The Abbots married at First Baptist and have raised their own children there.

“But in the years that we had been coming here,” Linda Abbot said, “we noticed the numbers steadily declining. And we could just see things falling apart.”
The numbers continued to decline until they were down to almost 20 people, forcing the once large church to close down its main building and move worship into the fellowship hall, a stand-alone, neighboring building.

The move was made to sustain the church, Ken Abbot said, with the knowledge that if finances dwindled to a certain level, the church would dissolve and its Conservative Baptist denomination would take over the building.

Meanwhile, Calvary sat empty for almost a year while worshipers met in homes or rented spaces, praying all the while for direction. “We had just been going from place to place, and the fear that came along with that is, how long is this going to work?” said deacon Mark Martin.

But, he added, the church’s predicament drove them closer to God. “And that’s what it did to everybody that was involved,” Martin said. “Because God doesn’t bring about situations like these to drive you away from him. There might be problems, but they are meant to bring you closer to the Lord.”

Still, the uncertainty was unnerving. After months of worshipping in different places, Calvary gathered for a prayer meeting in a home one Wednesday afternoon, bringing their future and their tattered building to the Lord.

Moving forward

“From the very beginning, once we stacked hands and were ready to move forward with the merger, we very purposefully decided this was going to work,” Calvary Baptist elder Mike Blakemore (center) said of the union between his church and another in their town.

Answered prayer
It was that same Wednesday afternoon when Mike Young, unable to shake the tugging in his heart, decided to finally investigate the rundown church building on the edge of town. He pulled into the church’s parking lot, found a phone number on the door, and called. “I explained who I was and asked if there was anything I could do. I thought maybe they would need help with their building. I could help with that,” said Young, who has facilitated extensive renovations at the camp.

“Right then, they stopped that prayer meeting and they answered the phone,” Young said. “They didn’t have a pastor, they didn’t have a building, but they still had that core group of people.”

The group eventually called Young to serve as interim pastor, sparking a new beginning that would soon include First Baptist. That church was still without a pastor, and wondering what to do with their building. That’s when they heard about Calvary.

“When we heard that Calvary’s roof caved in and they were without a building,” Ken Abbott said, “we started praying for them. And while we didn’t know it at the time, they, in turn, started praying for us too because of our situation.”

“It was a challenging year for all of us,” said Tim Walter, an elder at First Baptist. He and Abbot extended an invitation to Calvary to worship with them.

“We were two churches in need of each other,” Walter said. “They needed a church home. And we had facilities, but we weren’t using them because our building was pretty much all closed up.”

Calvary accepted the invitation, and the two churches held a worship service in First Baptist’s fellowship hall in January 2017. “Over time as we met,” Young said, “worshipping together became so sweet, and the fellowship was just excellent.”

At first, each church collected their own offerings and maintained separate prayer lists and bulletins. Church meetings were held in separate rooms. After a couple months of worshipping together, each church wanted a more long-term plan, and eventually took separate votes on whether to merge. The votes were unanimous—both churches were fully in favor.

Reaching

Pastor Aaron Jackson and his church are on a mission to proclaim Christ to their community.

Prayer, love, and willing hearts
Despite apprehension on each side that the other would want them to conform to their traditions, Blakemore said each church put aside their wants and traditions, focusing instead on God’s desire and Streator’s need for a thriving church.

Some described the experience as a marriage, with two parties making sacrifices toward a greater good. “When both churches came together, each naturally had their own tradition,” Young said. “But like any marriage, you have to give and take. And the two were willing to do that. They were willing to rely on God and trust him for the results. That is the most important part.”

“We had to come together as a new beginning,” Walter said. “The past is gone; First Baptist had to cease, and Calvary had to cease. As Dr. Dan Eddington told us, we had to have two funerals and a wedding for this to work.”

Both churches credit Young and Eddington, director of missions for Three Rivers Baptist Association, for guiding them through the merger. But overall, it was God, through prayer, that gave the churches their success.

“We had to bathe the entire process in prayer,” Blakemore said.

The Abbotts agreed. “From the beginning we were praying for Calvary and, without us even knowing, they were praying for us,” Linda said.

In September 2017, the two churches officially constituted as one, with a new name: New Beginnings Baptist Church. The church affiliated with IBSA last November.

“It’s new beginnings in a lot of different ways,” Martin said. “Not only is it a name for two churches coming together and a new start for a ministry, but it’s a new beginning for a work in Streator, as well as a new beginning to the lost who come here.”

Mike Young continued as interim pastor until the church was able to hire their first full-time pastor. Aaron Jackson has been serving as pastor almost a full year. “We’re already seeing what God is doing through ministries here at New Beginnings,” he said. “This is a very unchurched area and we’re doing as much as we can to get involved in the community.”

The church has moved back into the main building and has seen significant growth. They’re reaching out to Streator through multiple ministries. Walter describes the church as a family with a singular focus on Christ. “What is our mission? To preach the gospel and to proclaim Christ to a lost world. That is why we exist. And that’s our direction for the church: so that everything we do is to glorify him.”

Andrew Woodrow

MindbendersBy Kayla Rinker

With its historical architecture and pristine interior design, Mark Clifton’s church was so lovely that for years its tagline was “Wornall Road Baptist Church: The church beautiful.”

“And it is very beautiful. It could be on the cover of a Hallmark card; I don’t deny that,” said Clifton, senior director of replanting at the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “But somewhere along the way the mission became maintaining it, instead of its true purpose. It was beautiful, but it was empty.”

Clifton was the keynote speaker for the 2019 Illinois Baptist Leadership Summit, held Jan. 22-23 in Springfield. Nearly 250 Illinois Baptist leaders and presenters gathered to “Reimagine” their ministries and gain a fresh perspective and vision for their churches going forward. Clifton (below) spoke from his 30-plus years of experience in both church planting and in pastoring a dying church that had dwindled to less than 20 mostly elderly members.

Like many Southern Baptist churches, Wornall Road needed revitalizing. But the concept can be hard to define, said IBSA’s Mark Emerson, because the term is used to describe a variety of different strategies.

Emerson said IBSA defines revitalization as when a church that is stagnant or dying seeks to enter a process to learn new strategies to replace current ones, in hopes that the new methods spur new growth.

If that kind of revitalization doesn’t happen in time, the next step could be replanting, when current leaders step aside so new leaders can restart the church in an existing building. Or, the church could decide to turn their assets over to an organization like the Baptist Foundation of Illinois, to be used for other Kingdom work.

Mark Clifton

Mark Clifton

“One Sunday I left there frustrated and ready to walk away,” Clifton said of his time at his Kansas City church. “I came to the end of myself and then I heard a clear message: ‘What about a dying church brings glory to God?’ What about a dying church says, ‘Our God is great and his gospel is powerful?’ When a church dies, it’s not just the church that’s at stake. His name is at stake.”

While that statement might seem to put pressure on pastors and leaders of aging congregations everywhere, Clifton said the good news—the gospel, actually—says otherwise. Christ died for his church. His church. Clifton referenced Revelation 1: “I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven lampstands, and among the lampstands was One like the Son of Man…” (Rev. 1:12-13a).

“The lampstands are the churches,” Clifton said. “Jesus is among every church. He’s not looking down on them; he’s among them. You do not have to pick it up and carry it on your shoulders.

“Don’t focus on what you don’t have, which in my case was 580 empty seats and nothing but an MP3 player for worship. Instead, focus on what you do have. The risen Lord is with your church. Church revitalization doesn’t begin with you or me or NAMB, it begins with the risen Lord.”

Drawing board

THE DRAWING BOARD – Jonathan Davis, pastor of Delta Church in Springfield, serves as scribe during brainstorming at one of 36 breakout sessions offered at the Illinois Leadership Summit.

What does it take?
Clifton began to focus his ministry on the spiritual growth of his existing congregation instead of their numerical growth. And God breathed new life into the church, he said. Members began to shift from making decisions based on personal preferences, toward making decisions based on serving the neighborhood. They became a beautiful church.

“No, it’s not as comfortable singing worship songs that you don’t know,” Clifton said. “But hey, if you hear a 27-year-old singing a song about Jesus you aren’t familiar with, and they are singing it with their whole heart and you can’t worship God in that—you’ve got a real problem.”

While revitalizing the church is not about doing whatever is necessary to fill seats every Sunday, Clifton said it is about making disciples. It’s about making disciples of people who have attended faithfully for decades, and it’s about making disciples of new people who are still deciding if church is relevant in their lives.

Collective Learning

COLLECTIVE LEARNING – Large-group sessions, called “collectives,” focused on revitalization and community engagement.

In a breakout session at the summit, he shared nine steps to a revitalized church, starting with a commitment to glorify God in everything and find joy in the gospel alone. Then, he said, pray without ceasing. There is spiritual warfare happening in a church being reborn or revitalized, Clifton said.

“Joy is found in the risen Lord and, just as John sees Jesus in all his resurrected power and glory (Rev. 1), we are going to be glorified,” he said. “At Wornall’s worst—even as I was preaching and feeling like a failure—if that trumpet had sounded, we would have had a glorified church; a perfect bride ready to meet her groom.

“Don’t let Satan rob you of that joy. Those are his saints. God is under no obligation nor will he likely resource your plans for his church, but he will spare nothing from heaven to resource his plans for his church. He can raise a dead church.”

The remaining steps are practical ideas for pastors of revitalizing churches:

• Love and shepherd remaining members; don’t be more concerned and in love with the church you wish you had than with the church you have now.
• Serve the church’s unique community, never valuing your needs over the needs of the unreached.
• Use resources generously. How can the church building be repurposed and redeemed to serve the community?
• Simplify the strategy. Don’t value the process more than the outcome.
• Intentionally develop young men. Churches that die never passed meaningful leadership to the next generation. The goal is to get young men to connect and make them disciples, and then teach them to make disciples.
• Celebrate the legacy often. A church that transforms from dying to thriving is like a living sermon in its community. Celebrate that.

Clifton’s Wornall Road Baptist Church is a church revitalization success story. The church grew from 18 people when Clifton arrived, to about 120 when he left. It’s a thriving, multi-generational, neighborhood church. But it took revitalization to get there.

Currently, Clifton said, more than 900 Southern Baptist churches close each year and 65-75% of SBC churches are considered plateaued.

“Churches often begin the process too late,” Emerson said. “We recommend that church leaders study their growth trends and seek help when they discover that they are no longer growing and reaching people. IBSA can help churches assess their need and readiness for revitalization.”

For more information, contact IBSA’s Church Resources Team at (217) 391-3136.

Kayla Rinker is a freelance writer and pastor’s wife in Missouri.

By Eric Reed

“It’s just the Wild West out there right now,” a colleague declared of the Twitterverse, as Baptists registered their opinions on new reports of sexual abuse and the failure of Southern Baptists to stop perpetrators’ movement among churches. Then the Internet mostly applauded the recommendations by SBC President J.D. Greear’s study committee to address sexual abuse in our churches. Then when the Executive Committee reported that the actions of only three of ten churches cited by the Houston Chronicle merited further investigation, the blogosphere blew up again. “A free for all!” my colleague said.

That’s to be expected. Emotions are running high, and there has been a lot of use of crisis language. But beyond that, on any ordinary day, Baptists are a people who expect their voices to be heard.

Please hear me say this: Action must be taken to prevent sexual abuse in the future, to deal with those credibly accused, to assure they do not have places of leadership in SBC churches, and to minister to those who have been harmed by abuse or the threat of abuse.

That said, let me also say, we also have to handle faithfully our historic Baptist doctrines.

We may find in the discussion leading to the SBC annual meeting in June that nothing in Southern Baptist life is a done deal until it is accepted and implemented at the grassroots level.

A seminary professor of mine told this story of a convention in a large southern state: The receptionist was instructed to answer the phone, “Baptist Headquarters.”

“Hmmph,” she soon heard, followed by a long pause. “This is Pastor Smith calling from First Baptist Church. This is Baptist headquarters.”

The next time the pastor called, the phone was answered, “Hello. Baptist Building.”

The professor’s point sticks: The local church is Baptist headquarters. That’s what it means to be a Baptist. We are not a hierarchical denomination, and we don’t operate from the top down. We are the un-denomination. Early leaders even refused for the SBC to be called a denomination, thus they chose the term “convention” to describe this voluntary association of local churches. And, thus, the word “autonomy” becomes important.

In the recent reporting, a few writers described autonomy as a shield some leaders hid behind to avoid dealing with the critical issue of prevention. Maybe autonomy was an easy response to difficult situations in the past, as leaders were accustomed to churches making their own decisions on most matters of policy. And, to be sure, autonomy of the local church must not be an excuse for keeping our eyes closed to evil in our midst. But the foundational Baptist doctrine of autonomy cannot be dismissed.

In the Houston Chronicle’s reporting, around 380 people in Southern Baptist churches were credibly accused and about 220 were convicted of sexual abuse or received plea deals. Of those, 35 found new places of service in other Southern Baptist churches. For our denomination to effectively stop offenders from becoming repeat offenders in new settings, local churches will have to do the hard work of policing and training and fingerprinting and screening volunteer workers and ministry candidates. That is first a local action that must be done first in local churches. Without full participation of local churches, we won’t have a solution to the problem, even if we do create national policies and databases.

One reporter described Pope Francis’s call to his own church, in light of their abuse crisis, not to “simple condemnation but to concrete and effective measures.” As we offer and endorse solutions, we should remember that Baptists accomplish more by cooperation than declaration. In Southern Baptist life, it’s not the language of crisis that compels us or draws us, but the invitation to responsible cooperation.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

The purposes of ordination

Lisa Misner —  February 27, 2019

By Nate Adams

This past month our family gathered at Calvary Baptist Church in Elgin for my middle son Noah’s ordination into pastoral ministry. It was my privilege to deliver the “charge to the candidate,” something I felt I had been doing to Noah all his life, first as a boy, then as a teenager and young man, but now specifically as a Baptist minister of the gospel.

Calvary is my mom’s home church, and the location of my father’s funeral service almost 13 years ago. I wore one of Dad’s ties into the pulpit that evening, and gave another to Noah, reminding him that he represents a third generation of ministry in our family. I’ve known some of the church members there at Calvary for more than 40 years, and I watched gratefully as some of them, and then some of their children, came down front to lay hands on Noah and to pray for him. Needless to say, it was a very special evening.

The week after Noah’s ordination, I received an e-mail survey from an associational missions strategist in Kentucky who is doing research on pastoral ordination in Southern Baptist churches. The introduction to the survey stated that it was being precipitated by a “significant discussion concerning SBC ordination practices,” stemming from a recent report in the Houston Chronicle regarding sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches, some by ordained pastors.

It calls for celebration, yes, but also ongoing accountability.

The survey asked each participant to reflect on his own ordination experience, and whether it included certain elements. While I had to reflect back more than 25 years, I quickly recognized in the survey’s questions many elements that my ordination process included, but some that it did not.

For example, my ordination council consisted of ordained men from multiple churches, and they asked me questions about the Bible, and about The Baptist Faith and Message, and about my views on specific doctrines. They asked questions about my experience in ministry, though most of them had observed that first-hand for years, and about my wife’s commitment to ministry.

I do not, however, recall any questions or conversation about sexual purity, past or present. I do not recall questions or conversation examining potentially personal or selfish motivations or expectations for ministry. The survey helped me think about the benefits of including those elements in an ordination process.

Perhaps most thought-provoking to me was the survey’s question asking whether members of my ordination council had ever followed up with me to see how I was doing in ministry. My dad was on my ordination council, so I did have that follow-through and accountability. Others were friends and acquaintances for years to come. But there was no formal follow-up, and I had to admit it sounded nice to get an occasional call from someone on my ordination council, checking in on me and helping rekindle and sustain my call to ministry.

Sadly, since that wonderful, affirming, inspirational time of my ordination, I have come in contact with pastors who have fallen into sexual sin, financial impropriety, deceit or greed that was destructive to their church, child abuse, and even one who underwent operations to change his sexual identity.

So as we ordained my son this past week, I was reminded that ordination is not only a time of great celebration for the church, and affirmation of God’s calling on someone’s life. It is also a time of careful examination, scrutiny, and ongoing accountability, not just for the benefit of the ordaining church, but for the long-term good and protection of all the churches in that man’s future.

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

What churches need

Lisa Misner —  February 4, 2019

By Nate Adams

Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt once starred in a box office hit that bore the simple but provocative title, “What Women Want.” The movie’s premise, of course, is that men can be notoriously oblivious to understanding what women want. But after Gibson’s character receives an accidental shock from a hairdryer, he finds he can hear what the women around him are thinking. And that makes all the difference.

One of the serious take-aways from this romantic comedy is that we would all better understand what others want or need if we would just ask, and listen. None of us can hear one another’s thoughts, and most people are reluctant to talk openly about what they really need, at least until someone asks directly.

That’s one reason IBSA remains committed to an annual survey of churches each fall. It’s our way of asking churches what they really need, and hoping they will tell us, so we can help.

Our annual survey finds we have a lot in common.

Of course, Illinois Baptist churches are diverse, as we rediscover every year. From north to south and large city to rural community, each church’s size, setting, age, leadership, worship style, and culture make it unique, and deserving of individual consideration and attention.

At the same time, we found again this year that a handful of key needs appear consistently in many churches. For example, when asked what kind of assistance a church needs most, evangelism consistently again led the list of responses, followed by leadership development, and then spiritual renewal.

When asked what age groups churches need most assistance trying to reach, respondents consistently say they need help reaching college age and young adults, followed by students or youth. When asked about missions, churches ask for more help engaging in missions opportunities nearby, in Illinois, compared with international or North American mission fields.

We also ask in the survey how churches prefer to receive assistance or communication. Not surprisingly, churches prefer personal contact when possible, followed by e-mail and then phone. And recently, churches’ reported use of digital communications such as IBSA’s website or social media channels have actually slightly surpassed print communication channels, though both are still valued.

Every year we read and digest carefully this input from hundreds of churches. We seek to set our priorities and budget, and even hire and structure our staff, around the needs churches express. Here are two “take-aways” from this year’s survey I would like to communicate to every IBSA church:

First, you are not alone. Your church’s needs and even its frustrations are shared by many other churches. So don’t allow those needs to make you feel isolated. Use them as an opportunity to reach out and connect with other churches and leaders who have experienced the same needs, and who can advise or help.

Call IBSA for a connection or a consultation. Ask us to recommend a church that has found a way to meet the kind of need you have.

Second, choose to face your needs. Don’t just agonize over or lament them. Throughout the Bible, when God sees a need or hears a cry for help, he raises up a person, and that person leads others in a process that meets the need. Just ask Moses, or Gideon, or Solomon, or Nehemiah, or Jesus’ disciples, or the early church apostles. Paul promised the Philippian church, and us, that God would supply all their needs through his own riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

So what person and what process might God use to help meet your church’s greatest needs this year? He actually can read your mind. But he loves it when we admit our needs, and humbly ask for his help.

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

Happy Birthday, Illinois!

Lisa Misner —  October 15, 2018

By Meredith Flynn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue map copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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