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Some events from last year offer insight on issues facing evangelicals and church leaders

If evangelicalism is having an identity crisis, as some religious and cultural observers posit, the issue is whether “evangelical” means a person’s theological beliefs and practice, or is it adherence to a conservative political movement. It has at times meant both, and at points in 2017 we saw the movement struggling with itself over which is “the main thing.”

In this short collection of news stories from last year, we see how evangelicals balanced belief and practice. We witnessed the thumb-wrestling of “Big-E Evangelicalism,” inheritors of the socially conservative political force Moral Majority and keepers of its dwindling flame, and “little-e evangelicalism,” the smaller group who are not merely self-identified evangelicals, but whose core-group of beliefs about Scripture, Jesus, and their relationship to him directly affect their behaviors and drive their moral decision-making.

Donald Trump would not be president without evangelicals, more specifically Big-E Evangelicals, and the presence of some in his administration serves as a reminder of that. There is a group of cabinet leaders and others who meet weekly for Bible study. Spokeswoman (and preacher’s daughter) Sarah Huckabee Sanders is possibly the most visible Evangelical in the White House through her daily televised press briefings.

Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court as a hoped-for advocate for religious freedoms was hailed by church leaders. And Southern Baptists were present on several occasions in 2017 when President Trump signed legislation affecting religious liberty.

But the December loss of a U.S. Senate seat by Republican Judge Roy Moore, Alabama’s Ten Commandments champion, to a pro-abortion Democrat has caused some pundits to wonder if the Big-E political/Republican alliance has weakened, and what that might mean for President Trump in the future. Given the special circumstances in that Senate race, moral accusations against Moore, another conclusion is that the biblical beliefs of little-e evangelicals trumped the Big-E political machine in the privacy of the voting booth.

Similarly, a Democrat easily won the governor’s race in Virginia, whose considerable Evangelical population had previously supported a string of GOP governors. Conservative analyst Stephen Mansfield wrote in a new book that the loss can be attributed partly to the disaffection of evangelicals.

“The young, probably in reaction to Trump and to some of the machinations on the Right, went strongly for the Democrat. I think that is an indication of future trends,” Mansfield said in an interview. “It will probably settle down, but I think that the social consciences of the young are raising some important questions.”

But can those assumptions be applied to the President himself, who a year ago got 81% of the white, evangelical vote? “He’s had about a 10-15% drop-off in support from the evangelical community since taking office,” Mansfield summarized. “So while there may be a sort of exaggerated self-reporting around the time when an evangelical casts a vote, there is some indication that there was never really that depth of devotion. I don’t think their support was ever very deep, and it seems to be weakening quickly.”

One conclusion is that little-e evangelicalism—personal, biblical belief and practice—is being separated from its Big-E political counterpart in this generation.

“Many have analyzed the weaknesses of the current iteration of this movement,” writes conservative Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller. “The desire by mid-twentieth-century leaders to foster more widespread cooperation between evangelicals and downplay denominational differences cut believers off from the past, some religion scholars have found…. This has made present-day evangelicals more vulnerable to political movements that appeal to their self-interest, even in contradiction to biblical teachings, for example, about welcoming the immigrant and lifting up the poor. However, evangelicalism is much more resilient than any one form of itself. The newer forms that are emerging are more concerned with theological and historic roots, and are more resistant to modern individualism than older, white Evangelicalism.”

Issues in Illinois
Governor’s race: Evangelicals disappointed by Gov. Rauner’s support for HB 40, which allows state-funding of abortions involving state employees and aid recipients, will be looking for a gubernatorial candidate to support in 2018.

Pro-life advocate Jeanne Ives of Wheaton said she would run against Rauner in part because of his signature allowing the abortion legislation. Ives handily won a January straw poll against Rauner among Chicago-area Republican leaders, but she faces an uphill climb against the well-funded incumbent. Seven Democrats are on the March 20 ballot with J.B. Pritzker the apparent leader.

The general election is in November.

Social issues: After successfully moving legalization of same-sex marriage through the Illinois General Assembly, State Senator Heather Steans and some other representatives are preparing to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana use in Illinois. Steans is using economic growth as an argument for legalization, citing a prediction that 250,000 jobs will be created in the “cannabis industry” by 2020. “As many of you may have heard, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that he was rescinding an Obama-era policy that discouraged U.S. attorneys from prosecuting operations in states that legalized marijuana,” Steans wrote to supporters. “This change will not diminish our efforts to legalize adult-use cannabis in Illinois.”

A public hearing is scheduled for late January.

Decatur, Ill. | Two days after a mass shooting at a Southern Baptist church in Texas, Illinois pastor Randy Johnson urged pastors to preach every message like it could be their last opportunity to deliver the gospel.

Johnson, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur, filled in at the IBSA Pastors’ Conference for Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines, who was slated to preach during the conference but is in Texas ministering to First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs. On Sunday, Nov. 5, a gunman killed 26 people at the small church outside San Antonio.

Preaching from the book of 2 Timothy, Johnson encouraged pastors to check their measure of gospel urgency. Preach like it could be your last message, he said, and also like it could be your hearers’ last opportunity hear the gospel.

“As a preacher of the gospel, your highest calling is to preach the word,” he said. “It is your responsibility to stand before your people in your church and tell them what is right, what isn’t right, and how to get right.”

Johnson exhorted pastors to not only remember that every message could be their last, but also that every hearer will have a last moment.

“Preach like it’s their [the congregation’s] last moment. They don’t know when it’s going to be… You’re going to have people who don’t want to hear what you’re going to say. Consider their last moment. What are you leaving them with? What are you turning their hearts toward?”

On Wednesday morning, Ed Stetzer (below) spoke to Pastors’ Conference attenders about working for and journeying toward the long view of ministry. Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, urged pastors to have an eternal perspective and to recognize the contrast between life now and eternal life in heaven.

Ed Stetzer web

“It’s a long hard slog sometimes in ministry,” Stetzer said, “and we’re going to see Jesus one day.” That sounds very “old-school Baptist,” he acknowledged, but Baptists a few generations ago talked about heaven a lot more than we do now.

Christians have a confident hope, he said, because they walk by faith and not by sight.

“The afterlife is a sighted life, but life now is not. You don’t know everything. But you have a confident hope, because you know Jesus does.”




Curtis Gilbert 2 webDecatur, Ill. | The IBSA Pastors’ Conference began Tuesday with an impassioned plea for leaders to heed the apostle Paul’s words in Titus 1:5-9:

“The reason I left you in Crete was to set right what was left undone and, as I directed you, to appoint elders in every town: one who is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of wildness or rebellion. For an overseer, as God’s administrator, must be blameless, not arrogant, not hot-tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.

Curtis Gilbert (above) warned pastors not to miss four areas of needed assessment evident in Paul’s words. First, how’s your love for Jesus, asked Gilbert, pastor of The Journey in Belleville. Don’t get used to Jesus, he told pastors.

“If you’re bored, the reason is you’ve gotten your eyes off him, and onto yourself and onto your ministry,” he said. No matter how long you’ve walked with Jesus, Gilbert told conference attenders, you still have as much need for the gospel and for Jesus as when you first confessed him as Lord.

The Metro East pastor asked pastors to assess their lives and ministries in three more areas: how well they love the gospel, their families, and God’s people.

He reminded pastors that as shepherds, they have as much need of their people as their people do of them. “If they keep putting a cape on you, and you keep letting them, then you need to be rebuked,” Gilbert warned pastors. “Because you are nobody’s Superman.”

Joe Valenti webJoe Valenti (right) spoke after Gilbert and urged pastors to fall in love with the gospel. “Everything else comes out of that,” said the student and missions pastor from Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio.

There are more than 11,000 people groups in the world, Valenti said, and more than 7,000 are still unreached with the gospel. That’s not a problem for the International Mission Board or for missionaries or for the Cooperative Program, he said. Rather, “We need to see the completion of the Great Commission as a personal problem.”

The Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer is September 10-17, but there are plenty of opportunities for prayer ahead of that week. In fact, all of September is a good time to focus on God’s work through Baptists in Illinois.

Devote time to prayer every Sunday or Wednesday in September. Share mission facts and videos on the mission stories. Our main focus is evangelism and church planting in Illinois. Review the statistics about lostness in Illinois. These are not just numbers, they are people.

Pray for salvation. Check Wikipedia for the population of your county or town. According to the experts, more than two-thirds (say 65%) of those people do not know Jesus Christ. Do the math. Pray for their salvation. While you’re at it, make a list of people you know who need Jesus.

Pray for the missionaries by name. Use the daily devotions as brief prayer prompts in worship services and in personal prayer. They are in the MIO Prayer Guide/bulletin insert, online, and printed in the special Illinois Baptist wrapper on the outside of the Aug. 14 issue.

Schedule a special prayer meeting for state missions. Some churches use the Wednesday during the Week of Prayer, others use Sunday morning or Sunday night. Or pick another time, day or night.

Spread the responsibility. Ask Sunday school teachers and small group leaders to focus prayer on state missions during September. Ask the missions team or WMU or men’s group to pray for state missions in their September meeting.

Focus on Romans 10:14.
“How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher?” (CSB)

Pray each section of the verse:
• For the Holy Spirit to open hearts to believe;
• for the gospel to be shared; for the church planters;
• for gospel witnesses to respond to the call to
missions and evangelism, especially in Illinois.

We could plant so many more new churches and reach so many more lost people in Illinois if there were more future leaders in the pipeline.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering at

Government leaders need support, encouragement, advice and gospel centered truth, says Carrie Campbell (second from right).

Government leaders need support, encouragement,
advice and gospel centered truth,
says Carrie Campbell (second from right).

COMMENTARY | Carrie Campbell

Every year, my family goes to the Springfield City Basketball Tournament to watch our four city high schools duke it out for the top spot. A few weeks ago, we were sitting at the tournament on a Saturday night when I got a text message from my roommate: Bruce Rauner, Illinois’ newly elected governor, was there.

I quickly scanned the crowd looking for men in suits and a cluster of people. After searching for about 10 minutes, my mom spotted him among the crowd looking just like the rest of us, wearing blue jeans. I immediately decided I wanted to meet him. My sisters and a friend of ours from church headed down to where he was sitting near the court. Gov. Rauner was taking photos with a few other people, and when it was our turn, he smiled at us brightly and told us to come in close and put our heads together.

I introduced myself and told him that I was a middle school teacher. He laughed and said, “God bless you.” We went back to our seats, but later that evening, I went back to talk to him and his team a bit more. I told them that I teach at a diverse school, with students from more than 10 countries. I invited him to meet our students, most of whom have probably never met anyone that influential, especially a government official.

As Christians, I think it’s easy to get intimidated or star-struck by people that lead lives that seem more important than ours. Yes, the governor of Illinois does make many important decisions for our state. But he’s also like the rest of us, a human being put on this earth to glorify God. My introduction to Gov. Rauner reminded me that not only is it extremely important that we lift up our government officials in prayer, but also that we build relationships with them when we have the opportunity. They need our support, encouragement, advice, and gospel centered truth just as much as the next person does.

Romans 13:1 calls Christians to action in just this way: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” So I put forth a challenge to you: The next time you come in contact with a government leader, encourage that person with a friendly introduction, handshake, and—as God gives opportunities—with gospel centered truth.

Carrie Campbell is a middle school teacher in Beardstown and a member of Delta Church in Springfield.

When leaders gather

nateadamsibsa —  February 2, 2015

Nate_Adams_February2HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

More than 50 years ago, a small group of leaders from six Baptist state conventions here in the Upper Midwest gathered to discuss how they could help churches reach people with the gospel more effectively. They recognized that, even in that day, our Baptist faith and message were counter-cultural, not only to the spiritually lost, but also to those who had been exposed to the religious traditions that dominated the region. Being Southern Baptist in the north was and is not easy. The Midwest is a challenging mission field.

Those leaders returned home, determined to work with local associations to invite 10 leaders per association to the first North Central States Rally. The objective was to encourage stronger evangelism and church planting, and to deliver highly relevant training along with the clear message that Midwest pastors and church leaders were not alone.

I remember the first of these that I attended, back in January 2006. I was serving with the North American Mission Board, and was asked to come and lead a couple of conferences on the Acts 1:8 paradigm for missions strategy in the local church.

Though I had been assured that it happened every three years, I have to admit that I did not expect to find many leaders gathered in snowy Indianapolis in late January. But I was wrong. Almost 900 pastors, church planters, associational leaders, and lay leaders from all over the Midwest came, and eagerly soaked in the training and inspiration provided by Midwest practitioners and state and national SBC leaders.

In the hallways, in small group gatherings, and around the lunch and dinner tables, two central messages were clear. We are all here to advance the gospel in this region, and we are not alone.

That 2006 Rally, and the 2009 and 2012 Rallies that followed it, were all hosted in Indianapolis, which is fairly central to the six state conventions whose leaders gather. But in January 2015, the gathering expanded to include 10 state conventions. It took on a new name, The Midwest Leadership Summit. It attracted more than 1,000 leaders, the largest ever. And we were blessed to host it right here in Springfield, Illinois.

An all too common mindset these days seems to be that it’s too difficult to attract people to meetings. It’s not just that people are busy and travel is expensive. There seems to be a spirit of independence, sometimes even isolationism that can easily creep in to churches and their leaders. It’s easy to convince ourselves that things will be easier, simpler, cheaper, if we just stay home and focus on our own church.

But it is autonomy pulled together into cooperation, not independence pulled apart into isolation, that has produced missions advance by churches over the years. Sure it’s challenging and costly to get together, especially for busy leaders. But when committed, missions-minded leaders gather and ask how they can work together to more effectively advance the gospel, good things are bound to happen.

In the days ahead, we at IBSA will be working more intentionally with associational and church leaders to facilitate key leadership gatherings that are focused on evangelistic, gospel advance. You will see some of those plans elsewhere in this issue.

Some will be fairly local, in the form of leadership cohorts. Some will be “virtual,” facilitated by webinars or other online tools. And yes, some will continue to be statewide, even though that can involve costly time and travel.

We believe the gathering of leaders is worth it. It’s when leaders gather that we can remind one another that the mission of reaching people with the gospel is urgently important, and bigger than any of our individual lives, or churches. We cannot, we must not, allow ourselves to grow isolated or believe that we are meant to do it alone.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, wrote a book about his daughter, Melissa, his grief after her suicide, and how church leaders can help people living with the deep pain of mental illness.

Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, wrote a book about his daughter, Melissa, his grief after her suicide, and how church leaders can help people living with the deep pain of mental illness.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from the September 30 issue of the Illinois Baptist. The first part of the article headlined The Briefing last Tuesday, but this section takes a closer look at how the church, and specifically church leaders, can minister to individuals and families struggling with mental illness and suicide.

At the Southern Baptist Convention this summer in Houston, mental health and the church was a much-discussed topic, with messengers approving a resolution to “oppose all stigmatization and prejudice against those who are suffering from mental health concerns.” The resolution also called on churches to “look for and create opportunities to love and minister to, and develop methods and resources to care for, those who struggle with mental health concerns and their families.”

When it comes to mental health, “the church has had a tendency to say we’re going to leave that up to the professionals,” said Pastor Hal Trovillion, pastor of First Baptist, Manteno, Ill., and a former youth and family counselor. The problem is that for the most part, those professionals don’t take God into account.

Melissa_book_coverThe church has an opportunity to engage in the critical ministry of offering spiritual help to those in deep pain.

Jesus’ ministry did just that, Pastor James Shannon says. His church, People’s Community Church in Glen Ellyn, has sponsored several support groups (grief, divorce, substance abuse, etc.) and plans to do more in the future. An experienced and degreed counselor, Shannon is dedicated to helping hurting people find wholeness. His mission is to help people transition from “walking wounded” to “wounded healers” so that they can minister effectively to others.

“The point where a person is hurt the most is the point where God can equip them to do ministry, and I think that’s so vital for people to understand.”

The potential for those who have struggled with mental illness to be used in ministry to others with similar stories is encouraging, but the need to alleviate pain is often more pressing. What can churches do now to help people who are depressed and possibly contemplating suicide, and their families?

Frank Page has clear advice for pastors who likely are ministering or will minister to people in deep pain. Teach good theology, help people learn how to control their thoughts, and steer clear of trite advice, he counsels in his book “Melissa: A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide.”

“Stay quick with Scripture but sparing with human philosophy,” writes Page, whose oldest daughter took her own life almost four years ago. Currently serving as president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, Page was a pastor for many years and he and his wife, Dayle, raised their three daughters in the church. In the book, which includes a letter at the end of each chapter to those contemplating suicide, he says, “We were not a family whose daughter kills herself.”

Page is using his national platform to help Christian leaders understand the complexity of suicide and mental health issues. First, “be a learner,” he writes. “No one on this side of eternity can fully understand or articulate the complex nature and theological mysteries surrounding the horrible act of suicide nor of the loss of rational thought that typically leads up to it.

“Grow your observations, increase your insights, but don’t place pressure on yourself to grasp it all or to promise the absolute answer to every question.”

At the same time, Page writes, pastors should make themselves more knowledgeable about mental illness. “The church many times has been woefully inadequate in reaching out to persons who either experience mental illness themselves or are dealing with it in their families. …And when we as pastors, not in dismissiveness perhaps but at least in ignorance, give them ‘snap out of it’ advice (or something in that family of faulty counsel), we do more harm than good.

“More than ever – if you intend to serve your congregation well – you need a working knowledge of what causes mental illness and depression and how to assist its sufferers with the best kind of loving assistance.”

Read Religion News Service’s interview with Frank Page here, or watch his interview with LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer.

Senate chaplain likens government shutdown to ‘madness’
In a prayer in the U.S. Senate chamber last week, Senate Chaplain Barry Black asked God to “save us from the madness” of the ongoing government shutdown. Black, a Seventh-day Adventist minister who has served as chaplain of the Senate since 2003, also used words from Psalm 51 in his prayer. “We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness, and our pride,” he said. “Create in us clean hearts, oh God, and renew a right spirit within us. Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.”

The Washington Post’s On Faith blog ran an article yesterday about the role pride is playing in the federal government’s shutdown. Read it here.

Leaders, scholars remember Chuck Smith“His impact can be seen in every church service that has electric guitar-driven worship, hip casually-dressed pastors, and 40-minute sermons consisting of verse-by-verse Bible expositions peppered with pop-culture references and counterculture slang,” sociologist Brad Christerson said of California pastor Chuck Smith, who died last week. Read Christianity Today’s story on Smith, who helped a generation of “Jesus People” find their faith.

Mississippi church apologizes for racial discrimination
First Baptist Church of Oxford, Miss., decided it’s never too late to right a wrong. This summer, the church nullified a 1968 decision to deny African Americans use of its building facilities and resources. The policy hadn’t been enacted for many years at the church, but it also had never been officially overturned. Pastor Eric Hankins and deacons wrote a resolution to repeal the earlier decision and apologize for it, and Hankins preached on corporate repentance. Read the full story at

Chris Davis seeks godliness above stats
The Baltimore Orioles missed this year’s playoffs, but first baseman Chris Davis celebrated several individual achievements, winning 2013’s homerun and RBI crowns. “I just want to be known as a godly man,” he said in story on “That’s more important than any legacy on the field or numbers you leave behind. Read Joshua Cooley’s profile of Davis here.