Archives For Illinois Baptist churches

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

Our journey together

Lisa Misner —  September 13, 2018

MIO Logo 500pxBy Nate Adams

I suppose the most self-indulgent car I’ve ever owned was one we purchased just after Beth and I were married. It was a sporty little Honda Prelude, with barely any back seat and just enough trunk space for the two of us.

Then, as our family grew, we found we needed cars with bigger back seats and more trunk space. The arrival of our third son pushed us into a mini-van, and longer trips even required a cartop carrier for all the stuff that tended to go with us. Last spring, with two daughters-in-law now in our family troupe, our family vacation required the rental of something called a “people mover,” with nine seats plus cargo space.

Yes, it costs more and more and takes extra effort for a growing family to travel together. But it’s worth it. Sure, things like your destination and everyone’s comfort are important. But just as important are the relationships that grow, and the experiences you share, as you travel together.

Our journey

That’s also how I feel about our journey and mission together as churches, here in Illinois. Sure, where we are going together is important: We want to reach people with the gospel, and to develop disciples and leaders who can help our churches grow, and start new churches, and go to the mission fields of the world.

But the relationship between and among churches and leaders is important too, and somewhat unique to state and local missions. Here we are close enough, not just to do missions together, but to grow together, and sometimes hurt together, as family.

State missions isn’t only about evangelism and church planting and training leaders, though we certainly invest a lot in those priorities. It’s also helping one another through pastoral transitions, or church conflict, or legal issues. It’s doing camps together. It’s planning mission trips or experiences for multiple leaders, or kids, or students, or churches, when one church can’t do that alone.

It’s answering the phone when a church has a need, and sometimes jumping in the car to bring some help or encouragement or resources. It’s celebrating big church anniversaries together, or the long tenure of a devoted pastor. Sometimes it’s crying together at a funeral.

When churches throughout a state decide not to travel alone, but to band together, and work together, and put a state staff and ministries in place, they are doing more than giving money to send missionaries, as important as that is. They are deciding to journey together in a shared mission field, and to do life together, for better or worse, in a way that isn’t really practical in North American missions or international missions.

I would never take anything away from the challenges that our sister, southern state conventions face. But I will say that when a few hundred Southern Baptist churches that average 75 in attendance take on a northern state like Illinois, with mammoth cities like Chicago and St. Louis, and with a population that is 175 times the total worship attendance of our churches, our journey together is a little more uphill than most.

But this is our mission field. This is where we journey together. It’s not always easy or comfortable. But it’s worth it.

This week, churches across our state will receive a special offering, the Mission Illinois Offering. It helps provide what we need for the journey together. Please consider a generous gift, through your church or through the IBSA.org website, if your church isn’t receiving the offering. Every year we travel together brings new challenges. But, for the sake of the lost here, and the glory of our God, our journey together is worth it.

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

By Meredith Flynn

Larry Rhodes

Larry Rhodes leads worship at during a IBSA chapel service.

In a season meant for gratitude, Jason Vinson didn’t feel much. It was Thanksgiving when years of discouragement over his church led the pastor to the point he now calls rock bottom.

“Lord, this is not what I signed up for,” he prayed back then. “Please get somebody else. Can I have a way out? Would you please do something different, because this is killing me.”

For several years, Vinson and his church had faced internal challenges as they struggled to find effective ways to minister in their community. It was a lonely time, he said, a period when he questioned what God was doing, or whether he was working at all.

Finally, in 2016, they decided they needed a new start. The church moved forward under a new name—Charis Baptist Fellowship—and with Vinson still serving as pastor. He looked for partners to help his church, and found one in Larry Rhodes, an IBSA zone consultant in the Metro East region.

“We set a date to have lunch together, and heard the story of their church—the challenges they’ve been through, and how they met those challenges through prayer and fasting and consultation within their body,” Rhodes said.

“I was so excited to hear about how God was bringing healing and new life to that fellowship.”

As a consultant in one of ten zones in Illinois, Rhodes connects resources and training with pastors, who in turn help their churches engage their communities with the gospel. In Vinson’s case, he first needed someone to listen.

The Mission Illinois Offering supports the ministry of zone consultants like Rhodes, who serves as a sounding board and resource for pastors and churches in Metro East St. Louis. Rhodes and his fellow consultants seek to serve on the front lines alongside churches that are seeking community transformation, through the power of the gospel.

“Just the fact that Larry really believed in us was incredible,” Vinson said. “He really believed that God had a good work here, that God wanted me to continue in the work here.”

Lamb Book

With help from IBSA ministry specialists, Pastor Jason Vinson (pictured above) and Charis Baptist Fellowship overcame challenges and are working to meet needs in their community of Collinsville.

The summer after their restart, Charis hosted two Bible clubs for children, using a kit provided by Rhodes through IBSA. They hosted the clubs in a local park and in a nearby trailer community with the help of visiting mission teams—partnerships Rhodes helped forge.

Charis has fostered the relationships built through the clubs in a new Sunday morning Bible study for children, and a bi-weekly family discipleship time where dads teach their children from God’s Word. Two years after God started something new in Belleville, he’s still on the move, Vinson said.

“There’s an excitement, a joy, and an expectation that God is at work in this place.”

Together in the trenches
MIO Logo 500pxRhodes makes it a point to meet with each pastor in his zone, which includes the Gateway and Metro East Baptist Associations. (Local associations are networks of Baptist churches that often cooperate for ministry efforts like mission trips.) At those meetings, he wants to hear the pastor’s story, and help connect him with resources that can help the church in its big-picture mission.

For Calvary East St. Louis, that mission is to engage young people who have moved away from the church. “Our church started primarily with the concept of getting youth involved, getting them to know Christ, and keeping them involved and active in the process,” said Pastor Bermayne Jackson.

Rhodes came alongside the young church with resources to fulfill their mission, including a Vacation Bible School (VBS) resource kit and an evangelism training resource called “3 Circles.” Calvary used both kits last summer, hosting VBS for kids and teaching “3 Circles” to their parents.

The value of their first VBS was to show the church they could do it, their pastor said, that even a small church can be very effective. “We can make an impact,” Jackson said. “We can change lives. And it doesn’t take a hundred, 200, or 300 people to do it.

“We’re a church that has 46 members on the books. Average attendance is 30 a Sunday. But we feel confident in the fact that we can go out and make changes in our community.”

“That’s why we’re here, is to serve them [churches], and resource them, and encourage them in ways that we can, to push back the lostness in our state, which is vast.”

Jackson is a bivocational pastor, spending his days working as a sales manager and his evenings and weekends at church. He’s surrounded by a great leadership team at Calvary, but acknowledges pastoring can be lonely. Friendship and encouragement from experienced leaders is a key factor in being able to stick with the mission.

“Personally, (I) get an increase energy by knowing that you have a support system there,” Jackson said of relationships he’s built with Rhodes, others from IBSA, and leaders from his local network of churches, Metro East Association. “Sometimes (Larry) is talking, and he doesn’t know how much encouragement he’s giving to me.”

Rhodes knows how difficult it is for pastors to find time to meet with him, especially when so many are working at other jobs during the week, and balancing work, family, and church responsibilities. On top of all that, they want to see their communities transformed by the gospel.

“That’s why we’re here, is to serve them, and resource them, and encourage them in ways that we can, to push back the lostness in our state, which is vast,” Rhodes said.

“It’s critically important that IBSA realize the people ‘out in the trenches,’ as I like to say, are crucial to evangelism and to discipleship in the state of Illinois. We’re fighting an uphill battle all the way, but we’re still fighting, and we should.”

Here to help
Andre Dobson has pastored churches for 44 years. Still, he said, he needs people like Larry Rhodes to come alongside him and help him be better.

“He went out of his way to stop by the church to introduce himself and inform us about things happening with IBSA,” Dobson said. Rhodes also offered friendship. “It was really out of that relationship, knowing that here was someone that I could trust…that I asked him to begin to get involved in helping us as a church be able to minister in the way that we needed to.”

“…we’re here to help them [churches]. And we’re here because of them.”

The long-time pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Alton is mindful of the DNA he’s building for the next generation of leaders at his church. He wants to establish strong, effective, meaningful practices in areas like worship, discipleship, and evangelism.

Armed with resources, zone consultants stand ready to help churches do more effective ministry in their communities. They also serve as a sounding board for leaders, like Dobson, who are deeply invested in seeing their congregations embrace the gospel and the call to share it. Because of their visibility and partnership with churches, they often serve as the faces of IBSA, Rhodes said.

“I don’t think this face ought to represent anything,” he said self-deprecatingly, “so I call it ‘boots on the ground.’ I think it’s a tremendous way to let our churches know that we’re here. That we’re here to help them. And we’re here because of them.”

Call to prayer
Please pray for IBSA’s zone consultants and the churches they serve. Pray for stronger churches across Illinois that can build up disciples and share Christ with lost people. Pray for the Mission Illinois Offering, that many more churches will support the annual collection for state missions, which helps fund the work of Larry Rhodes and IBSA’s other missionaries and ministry staff.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

PA-33C-3

By Eric Reed

Roger Marshall, pastor of First Baptist Church of Effingham, said at a recent IBSA meeting, “People used to say, ‘We can do more for the Cooperative Program.’ Now they ask, ‘Why do we support the Cooperative Program?’”

He’s right. No longer can we assume that people appreciate the Cooperative Program, or understand it, or even know what it is. So when we ask our church to make sacrifices for the sake of missions, many aren’t sure what we’re talking about.

It’s time to teach the basics again.

Have you considered how often bring the Cooperative Program before your congregation? When speaking about vision, Rick Warren used to say he had to restate the vision at Saddleback every 30 days. If reaching the world with the gospel is part of our vision, then the same applies to Cooperative Program. People need to know that their offering supports the most effective missions ministry in the world.

Consider these ways of sharing about CP:

  • Distribute the IBSA bulletin insert. Delivered six times a year, it’s provided free to IBSA churches. E-mail Communications@IBSA.org.
  • Include a short note in your church newsletter or on your website.
  • Tell an SBC or IBSA missions story in a sermon, and mention that your church supports that work through CP.
  • Hold a new members’ class. Keep it short. Include CP. (A 90-minute seminar is a popular format.)
  • Add a short CP fact as part of the offering time. Pray for a missionary or country by name, and mention the Cooperative Program.
  • Observe CP Sunday in April or October. Put in on the church calendar.
  • Hold a missions fair. Give CP a table or booth.

If we are to make new sacrifices for the sake of the gospel, pastor will lead the way. If we are to keep funds flowing to support missions, then we must educate our people about Cooperative Program. It’s the way we get things done.

Learn more at PioneeringSpirit.org

PA-33C-3

By Pat Pajak, Associate Executive Director of Evangelism

The “Pioneering Spirit Challenge” is well under way! It was launched at the IBSA Annual Meeting in November 2017, and (123) churches have already committed to “Engage New People” with the gospel.

One of the four purposes of the “Pioneering Spirit Challenge” was to ignite a fresh passion for sharing the gospel and seeing people follow the Lord in believer’s baptism. As a strategy to help churches do that we also promoted “One GRAND Sunday” on April 8. SO far, 416 baptisms have been reported. More important is the renewed desire by many of our churches to reach their communities for Christ.

Three downloadable helps to train a church know how to increase its effort to become a frequently baptizing church can be found on the IBSA Resource Center.

I encourage you to use all three of these training resources. And if your church has not yet committed to the Pioneering Spirit Challenge to go to the website and do so.

The best offense

Lisa Misner —  May 7, 2018

By Nate Adams

During the years I played basketball, my teams had some winning seasons and some losing seasons. After one of those losing seasons, our coach decided to make some changes.

They weren’t personnel changes—our best players were on the floor most of the time. The problem was that most of our competitors were taller and bigger than we were. And none of us were great outside shooters.

But we were quick. And we played hard. And by the start of the next season, our coach made sure we were in excellent condition. Because his new strategy, and our new life, we learned, was defense.

ADF-IBSAAt first we complained, at least among ourselves, because three-fourths of our practice time focused on guarding and running. Most basketball players like to shoot the ball. But our coach shook off our looks of discouragement with this promise: “Guys, this year our best offense is going to be good defense.” And as our defense created steals, and those steals created easy baskets for us, we grew to believe him. It was good defense that was creating new opportunities, and victories, for us.

For churches in today’s rapidly changing moral and legal climate, good defense is also essential. Religious freedom is being assaulted again and again, and often by giant, imposing foes that can range from the courts, to the schools, to the entertainment elite, to the culture itself. Churches that were once noted for the good they do are now often viewed with distrust and, in some cases, those churches face direct legal challenges.

One excellent “coach” in this changing and challenging climate is a Christian organization named Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF has over 23 years of experience providing religious freedom legal services to churches and Christian organizations, and has played a role in at least 52 Supreme Court victories. Now, through its recently developed Church Alliance program, it provides member churches with religious freedom legal services ranging from facility or land use, to unconstitutional regulation, to tax exemption issues.

Churches that join ADF’s Church Alliance program receive a religious liberty audit, including legal review of church bylaws and policies. They receive direct access to attorneys to answer the church’s questions about protecting its religious liberty. And they can receive consultation and/or legal representation in cases involving the church’s religious liberty.

Seeing that these services are now so valuable to churches, IBSA recently entered a partnership agreement with ADF to provide these services to IBSA churches for a flat annual membership rate, regardless of the church’s size. In fact, IBSA believes so strongly in the value of these services for individual churches, that IBSA will pay half of the first year’s annual $250 fee for any IBSA church that enrolls in ADF’s Church Alliance program. The religious liberty audit of a church’s key documents alone is worth well more than this amount, especially compared to the cost of an individual attorney for these services.

You can learn more about Alliance Defending Freedom, and receive the half-price IBSA church partnership discount (enter code IBSA2018), through the IBSA.org website, or call or e-mail the IBSA offices for a free brochure on how the ADF Church Alliance program works.
For my basketball team, playing serious defense was a game-changer, and a season-changer. We scored more points, and we won more games. But our offense was triggered by a solid, hard-working defense.

I am hopeful that hundreds of our IBSA churches will realize the threat they are facing, and get serious about defending their biblical beliefs and religious freedoms. Perhaps in doing so, we will also find new opportunities to go on offense with the gospel. Sometimes the best offense really is a good defense.

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

After Easter

ib2newseditor —  April 23, 2018

idyllic landscape

Easter, of course, is about new beginnings. Those of us who know the risen Savior find in Easter new hope, new life, new power, a new covenant, new perspective, and more. Even for those who don’t yet know Jesus, Easter often means new clothes, new plantings, and new spring projects. But just after Easter a few years ago, it was the idea of beginning a new church in our community that brought my wife, Beth, and I together in prayer with three other couples.

Praying was all we knew to do at first. But soon all kinds of new thoughts and ideas started flowing. We began talking about who in our community didn’t know Christ or didn’t attend church, and why. We talked about the spiritual and physical needs we sensed those people had, and how a new church could help address them. We talked about what events we could host, and where we could meet, and how we could invite people to a new beginning.

Over the next several months, we had lots of new beginnings. We began three new Bible studies in our homes. We began a rental contract with a grade school. We began buying sound equipment, and children’s ministry supplies, and everything we could imagine that a portable church might need. We began developing a constitution, and a logo, and mailers, ads, and door hangers.

In this season of new beginnings, consider how a new church can bring new hope to people who don’t know Christ.

And we began surveying our community for feedback on a name for our community’s new church. Together, we chose the name New Hope.

That first year flew by quickly, and as it did, the Lord gathered about 40 people into our core group. Not surprisingly, we chose Easter Sunday one year later as the launch date for our new church. A hundred and eighty-two people responded to our invitations to come to a new beginning that Easter, and found New Hope, in more ways than one.

Looking back, more than a new church began that Easter. For me, it was the beginning of a firsthand understanding that new churches reach new people in ways that existing churches don’t. We were meeting in schools and homes, and baptizing in swimming pools, and making disciples of people who hadn’t been to church in years. It was the most challenging and most rewarding church experience of my life. And it convinced me forever that church planting is essential to go where lost people live, and to reach people that are “lost in the cracks” between existing churches.

New Hope had only been around a couple of years when the North American Mission Board called and asked if I would bring my communications and management background to help start hundreds of new churches each year. I’m not sure I can think of anything else the Lord could have used to lead me away from that new church, but that did it. We moved our family to Georgia, and spent almost a decade encouraging others to live a life that’s on mission, and to start new churches.

And now here we are in Illinois, and it’s just after Easter, again. There are 10 counties in Illinois that still have no Southern Baptist church, and another 12 that have only one. There are at least 200 places in Illinois that need a new church now—most of them in communities where there’s no evangelical church of any kind.

Easter is still about new beginnings, and in many ways the most-needed new beginnings in our state are the planting of new churches that will reach new people, and bring them new hope. I’m praying that there are still clusters of families out there, willing to start praying after this Easter, about what might be possible by next Easter.

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