Archives For leaders

O’Rourke: Opposing same-sex marriage should mean losing tax-exempt status
“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for any institution or organization in America that denies the full human rights and full civil rights of every single one of us,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said at a forum hosted by CNN and gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. O’Rourke’s controversial position has been rejected by some of his fellow candidates, but Religion News Service reports the candidates’ liberal theology on orientation and gender is now the norm for most of the country.

Conflict in Syria endangers Christianity in the Middle East
The United States’ decision to withdraw troops from a Kurdish-controlled region of Syria “could lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region,” said one evangelical leader. President Donald Trump announced last week he would hand over control to the Turkish government, a move many say will allow ISIS to continue their assault on religious minorities, including Christians.

Brunson’s book details discouragement, suicidal thoughts in prison
Missionary Andrew Brunson contemplated taking his own life while imprisoned in Turkey, he writes in a new book released Oct. 14. In “God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance,” Brunson writes at one point, all he heard from God was silence. He was released last October after more than two years in prison. Since his release, he and his wife, Norine, have shared their story at various events, including at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference.

Man baptized after Arkansas church offers forgiveness
Brenton Winn destroyed $100,000 of property at Central Baptist Church in Conway, Ark., in February 2019. Six months later, Winn was baptized after accepting Christ through a recovery program the church helped him enter. “As I’m starting to understand how God works, I’ve realized I didn’t pick the church that night. God picked me,” he said. “If it had been any other church, I think I’d be sitting in prison right now.”

Are our pastors our friends?
One-fifth of Christians say they regularly meet with or talk to the lead pastor of their church outside of weekly church services and events, according to Barna Research. Still, “friend” leads the list of words that best describe a Christian’s relationship with his or her pastor, followed by mentor, counselor, and teacher.

Sources: Religion News Service, Christianity Today, ERLC.com, Christian Post, Baptist Press, Barna Research

Pastor’s death by suicide renews calls for help for hurting leaders
California pastor Jarrid Wilson died by suicide Sept. 9 after preaching that day at the funeral of a woman who had taken her own life. Wilson was an advocate for mental health and had encouraged the Church to care for people who are struggling. The news of his death started numerous conversations about the depression and isolation often connected to church leadership.

“Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people,” wrote Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship where Wilson served as associate pastor. “We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not.”

Related: Depression often goes unshared in isolating vocation

Liberty students protest after Falwell aides speak out
A recent Politico story on Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. resulted in a protest attended by around 200 students Sept. 13. Around 60 of those were there to demand an investigation of the president, Religion News Service reported. Falwell’s leadership and management of the Virginia university founded by his father were called into question by the Politico article, which relied on information from several current and former staffers.

Duke rejects ministry over policy on sexuality
Young Life was denied official status as a student organization on campus at Duke University after the student senate unanimously rejected the ministry for its policy on LGBTQ volunteers and staff. “We do not in any way wish to exclude persons who engage in sexual misconduct or who practice a homosexual lifestyle from being recipients of ministry of God’s grace and mercy as expressed in Jesus Christ,” Young Life’s policy states. “We do, however, believe that such persons are not to serve as staff or volunteers in the mission and work of Young Life.”

California lawmakers call on pastors to change treatment of LGBTQ people
The California Legislature passed a non-binding resolution Sept. 4 blaming religious groups and others for “disproportionately high rates of suicide, attempted suicide, depression, rejection, and isolation amongst LGBTQ and questioning individuals.” The resolution calls religious leaders to “counsel on LGBTQ matters from a place of love, compassion, and knowledge of the psychological and other harms of conversion therapy.”

Wednesday night is still a church night for most
An overwhelming majority of Protestant pastors say their churches host some type of activity on Wednesday evening, with adult small group Bible study and gatherings for youth and kids atop the list. “Church leaders frequently discuss the difficulty of getting people to participate in church activities multiple days each week,” said Scott McConnell of LifeWay Research. “Yet the vast majority of churches are still open and active on Wednesday nights.”

Sources: Christianity Today, USA Today, Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, Christian Post, LifeWay Research

Tithing

Today churches will collect the Mission Illinois Offering. From Cairo to Chicago, East St. Louis to Westville, the mission work of IBSA is made possible by gifts from partner churches. Discipling kids at camp, training next-gen church leaders, reaching people who don’t know Jesus — it’s all because you give.

Pray that Illinois Baptists who support our shared mission work may give generously today.

Thank you for supporting and praying for state missions in Illinois. Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering at MissionIllinois.org.

Christian rocker calls leaders to value truth over feeling
In a post that has since been shared nearly 40,000 times, John Cooper, frontman for Christian rock band Skillet, responded to Christian leaders who have announced they’re walking away from the faith. Author Joshua Harris and Hillsong writer Marty Sampson both made public statements recently, with Harris saying outright “I am no longer a Christian.”

Cooper, who founded the band in 1996, also called Christians—those who lead worship and those who are led in it—to a higher standard than what is relevant or trendy in the moment. Rather than lift up current influencers as ultimate truth-tellers, he posted, rely on the Word of God.  “…we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20-year-old worship singers as our source of truth,” Cooper said. “We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word.”

>Related: Russell Moore on what to do when someone you admire abandons the faith

>Related: The roles endurance and environment play in a Christian’s ability to press on

Illinois parents weigh options ahead of 2020 curriculum change
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature on a bill that will require LGBT history in public schools has sent some Christian parents looking for education alternatives, while others are resolved to keep their kids in the school system.

“We are very aware that times are changing and more liberal views are entering the classroom,” said one Springfield mother of three. “We feel that the changes that are happening in the classroom and throughout the world right now are opportunities to share Christ and his message.”

Methodists mull denominational split
Religion News Service reports a group of conservative United Methodists met this summer to discuss how the denomination can go forward amid growing divisions over its policies toward the LGBTQ community and same-sex marriage. One plan under consideration would keep the UMC denomination as a centrist/liberal organization, while creating a new entity for traditionalists.

In February, delegates to the denomination’s General Conference voted narrowly not to lift bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

MacDonald indicates return to ministry
James MacDonald, former pastor of Chicagoland’s Harvest Bible Chapel, posted online last week that he’ll “be back soon with fresh messages from God’s Word.” MacDonald was fired in February amid charges of financial mismanagement and poor leadership.

Trade war won’t affect Bibles
Bibles and other religious literature were initially on a list of items that would be subject to a 10% tax hike on goods imported from China, Baptist Press reported. But Christian leaders were relieved last week when the U.S. Trade Ambassador indicated a “Bible tax” will be avoided.

Sources: Facebook, Christian Post, RussellMoore.com, Christianity Today, Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, USA Today, Baptist Press

By Jeff Gonzalez 

More people will volunteer if you recognize the obstacles

Jeff GonzalezMore than 10 million people volunteer in only seven organizations: Special Olympics, Salvation Army, YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, American Red Cross, Big Brothers/Big Sisters. And yet there are hundreds of volunteer organizations. The reason those few organizations have the lion’s share of volunteers is because they offer a compelling vision. They move the hearts of people to serve.

The church has the greatest message ever told and the greatest mission to humanity. The church needs to do a better job communicating the vision so volunteers can understand their impact when God uses them to change a life for the kingdom. If the church is able to cast a compelling vision of the incredible opportunity God gives his followers to make an eternal difference in the life of another person, then more people will volunteer to serve.

God gave the church his own mission to go out and reach lost people with the gospel, baptizing them, teaching them, and sending them out as disciples. God gives us the opportunity to be part of his kingdom purpose.

What is great about this mandate is that God gives each of us special gifts to accomplish it. He describes his people with these unique gifts as part of the body. He hasn’t called all of us to be the head or the arm. Instead he illustrates how the parts working together as a body can accomplish incredible things, but every member must bring his own unique gifts to the enterprise.

Overcoming the barriers
The Unstuck Group conducted a survey on volunteerism in the church. They reported 46% of adults and students serve in their church at least once per month. At the high end of the report, churches reported 70% engagement, and the lowest reported was 20% engagement.

Whatever the percentages, every church could use more workers. A ministry leader is always in need of them, but sometimes good volunteers can be hard to find. We may sometimes blame the commitment level of our congregation. We ask ourselves, “Why don’t more people step up and serve?” But a better question is, “What’s preventing people in our church from engaging in service?”

Rather than bemoan the lack of volunteers, many churches could benefit from this simple exercise—identify the barriers to service, and do something about them. In addition to vision, here are a few additional barriers:

  • Nobody’s tracking service. Without tracking participation, it’s hard to know if the church is making progress.
  • The church has too many ministries. Sometimes the problem is not lack of workers, but too many slots. Cutting unneeded or outdated ministries will free up people to serve.
  • The boarding process is unclear. In some churches, it’s just too hard to get into the system. Check the volunteering process for clear entry points and adequate training for specific ministries.

Remember, it’s not the lack of volunteers that keeps a church from being effective in ministry. It’s the barriers that keep would-be volunteers on the bench rather than in the work. When we present service as a spiritual growth opportunity, instead of a survival tactic for the church, we will see people step up. When we are engaging more volunteers, then we will know that people are growing in their walk with Christ.

Jeff Gonzalez is an experienced leader in business and ministry. He is a consultant with IBSA in the area of church health and growth.

‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ writer announces ‘massive shift’ away from faith
A week after announcing his separation from his wife of 20 years, author Joshua Harris posted online that he’s no longer a Christian. “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian,” Harris wrote on Instagram July 26. “Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.”

Harris wrote the pro-courtship book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” in 1997, chronicling his relationship with his future wife.

Village Church sued for neglect in sexual assault case
A Southern Baptist church in Texas is facing a $1 million lawsuit that claims it hasn’t done enough to resolve sexual assault that occurred at a church camp in 2012. The suit against The Village Church says the church acted with “conscious indifference or reckless disregard” for a woman referred to as Jane Doe.

Former Village staff member Matthew Tonne was arrested in January on charges of indecency with a child and is awaiting trial, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Willow Creek struggles to move forward after Hybels
Christianity Today reports Willow Creek Community Church held a meeting in July to try to find closure more than a year after the resignation of founding pastor Bill Hybels, who stepped down in April 2018 amid allegations of sexual misconduct. The Chicago megachurch’s elder board also resigned, and the church has since seen declines in giving and attendance, according to CT.

Baptists travel to U.S. border on ‘fact-finding mission’
Marshall Ausberry and Todd Unzicker met with immigrants in Mexico and Baptist leaders on both sides of the border to find out how the SBC can minister there amid the growing crisis. Ausberry, the SBC’s first vice president, and Unzicker, an associate pastor at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, will report their findings to SBC President J.D. Greear as he formulates ideas for Baptist ministry at the border.

Quiz sheds light on Americans’ religious knowledge
87% of Americans know an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in God, but only 24% know Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. And just under half think “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is one of the Ten Commandments. Those are among the findings of Pew’s quiz of American adults on a variety of religious topics.

Sources: The Christian Post, The Dallas Morning News, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Pew Research Center

To protect and serve

Lisa Misner —  July 29, 2019

By Nate Adams

church pews

Some churches have business meetings every month. Some have them once a year. My home church has probably the most common practice, gathering once a quarter to hear reports and consider major actions not already approved in our annual budget and ministry plan.

An extra meeting at church every three months really isn’t that much to ask. Yet when our church’s most recent business meeting rolled around, it was on a stormy summer evening when I had a hundred other things to do. Knowing of no controversies or big decisions, I found it tempting to stay home. After all, a friend of mine once jokingly referred to church business meetings as the Baptist version of purgatory.

But my wife and I have committed to participating whenever we can, not just in our church’s ministries, but in our church’s business. The motto, “To Protect and to Serve,” used by many police departments, also describes our responsibilities as devoted, mature church members. We should both serve through our church, and also protect the integrity and resources of our church.

In recent days, I have seen sad evidence of churches whose members did not guard their business well. In each case, an unscrupulous man used the role of pastor, not to guard and shepherd the flock, but to fleece it.

Church members are responsible to do both.

The pattern was generally the same each time. The churches were small and vulnerable, with few strong leaders. Often in a state of discouragement or desperation, they called men as pastors who promised a better future. Like too many churches, they also hired more with hope than with carefully researched background, references, and secondary references.

After a brief honeymoon period, these men began taking more and more control of finances, property, decision processes, and leadership selection. Anyone who questioned their authority was quickly marginalized, or accused of something, or asked to leave. Soon the small church was even smaller, left primarily with members who didn’t have the ability or the will to oppose. Then whatever finances or property the church possessed was gradually or quickly depleted, or outright taken, by the man the church had trusted to be their shepherd.

It’s often not until then that a handful of the remaining members realize what has happened to their church. They look around for church leaders to help, but most of those folks left shaking their heads when the so-called pastor began his abuses.

And it’s often then that one of the IBSA staff or I will receive a call. And yet, because each Baptist church is autonomous, members with standing in that church, operating within its approved governance and documents, are needed to challenge the abuse that is happening.

Fortunately, most churches do have a core of devoted, discerning leaders who detect this kind of abuse in its early stages, and who guard their church with spiritual courage, and with an understanding of its governance and legal protections. And when there is strong associational leadership in place, these church leaders also have a nearby and willing advocate.

These leaders know to place language, not only in the church’s bylaws but in the deed to its property, that stipulate what happens to the property if it ever ceases to be a Baptist church. They know to put appropriate financial controls and accountability in place that prevent any individual, or any small group, from having inappropriate access to funds. And they are willing to confront even the man who calls himself pastor, when he is brazenly and selfishly exploiting the church from within.

The overwhelming majority of churches I know are served by humble, loving, self-sacrificing pastors and leaders. But especially if your church is small or vulnerable, you may one day be the one called upon by your church not only to serve, but to protect.

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