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Follow the follower

ib2newseditor —  February 16, 2017 — Leave a comment

follow-jesus

Christian leadership training experts like to cite Jesus as an example of the best leader ever, Michael Kramer told Illinois Leadership Summit breakout attenders. While he agrees, the pastor also believes Jesus is an example of the best follower the world will ever see.

The education pastor from Immanuel Baptist in Benton based his claim on this: “Christ called us to be followers. Even Jesus followed the will of the Father. Jesus was the greatest follower and his disciples followed him… As followers we are to be deeply dependent on Jesus.”

As leaders, Kramer stressed, we are to follow the tenet of John 3:30—He must increase, I must decrease. “Our intake of Jesus must be greater than our outtake,” he said. “We need to be spending much time in the Word. Not time in sermon preparation, don’t count that.”

Kramer suggested several ways to increase private prayer time and Bible reading. “Read through the Bible in a year or read a Psalm a night. Download a Bible app and listen. Buy the Jesus Storybook Bible, it’s the most creative Bible I’ve come in contact with. It goes straight to the heart. Memorize a Bible verse a week.”

“Pray the Lord’s Prayer every morning before your feet hit the floor,” Kramer said. “Go away for a few hours or an even longer period of time once a month just for prayer.” Kramer will spend a few hours in the woods walking and talking with God. He also recommended praying through a prayer list with your spouse, children, or grandchildren

By increasing time spent with God, you begin to decrease your focus on self. “What’s it look like to decrease?” he asked. “When God wants to go after your heart he’s going to do it in an unexpected way. Christ is going to go after the places that he wants to claim in our hearts.”

tibbettsTimes of ministry burnout are coming, Heath Tibbetts told leaders gathered in Springfield for the Illinois Leadership Summit. So are areas of weakness. But there is a way to prepare for those inevitable difficulties, said the pastor of First Baptist Church in Machesney Park.

“Spiritual build-up prepares us for burnout and blind spots that we know are on the horizon,” Tibbetts said during his breakout session on the spiritual health of a leader.

One warning sign that spiritual build-up may be lacking, Tibbetts said, is reacting poorly to challenges. There was a time, he said, when his church didn’t plan for occasional obstacles, like losing a Sunday school teacher or facing a bill they couldn’t afford to pay. Leaders can fail to prepare in the same way, if they allow their current plans and level of knowledge to be enough.

“Visionless ministry punches the clock.”

So, how can a leader make sure his or her spiritual health is strong? Tibbetts suggested several ideas, including coaching from other leaders. He recently starting a mentoring relationship with a pastor in another part of the country, which started when Tibbetts read a magazine article about how the other church was utilizing facility space and e-mailed the pastor a question.

There’s also a need for trusted friends who can ask questions like, “How’s your relationship with your wife?” Tibbetts added.

Building oneself up spiritually also comes from time with God himself, he reminded his audience. “Personal devotion is one of the easiest things to let slip in your life.” As a pastor, if sermon preparation is the only study he does, Tibbetts said, and if he isn’t spending devotion time in other parts of Scripture, not only will the sermon be lacking, but he’ll also be missing a valuable build-up opportunity.

When ministry burnout does come, Tibbetts said, there are ways to confront it. Unplug, and “say no a lot.” Leaders need to remember their vision for ministry, even apart from what they are currently doing. “Visionless ministry punches the clock,” Tibbetts said, asking leaders to identify, What defines you separately from your ministry?

And keep building up. Tibbetts said a man in his church recently waited two months to call him for a counseling appointment, because he knew his pastor would ask about his spiritual life, and he wanted to make sure he was reading his Bible. If you’re confronting burnout, Tibbetts said, schedule more times of prayer.

– MDF

Growing leaders

ib2newseditor —  February 7, 2017

The church’s ministry potential depends on it

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While serving as associate pastor of Pawleys Island Baptist Church in South Carolina, Mac Lake said he could feel the church’s ministry efforts crumbling down around him.

“At one point I had 88 people reporting to me,” said Lake, who is now senior director of church planting development for the North American Mission Board’s SEND network. He was this year’s keynote speaker at the Illinois Leadership Summit.

“Of course I was exhausted so I went on vacation and worked on a plan to start developing leaders. The best way to make ministry successful is to make your team successful. Shifting my mindset saved my life, saved my ministry, and probably saved my marriage.”

More than 230 pastors, staff, and leaders from churches across Illinois heard practical strategies as Lake spoke on the importance of leading self, leading others, leading leaders, and leading an organization during the two-day event held January 24-25.

“This opened my eyes to the difference being intentional in your leadership strategy will make,” said Garry Hostetler, pastor of First Baptist Church Bogota in Newton. “I enjoyed getting together with other pastors and leaders and getting real help that I can put into practice right away.”

“In my ministry, I discovered if we were going to grow a congregation, I had to grow as a leader. It is important for leaders to realize their leadership lid and to grow past it.”

“When we’re spiritually disciplined we’re often more vocationally effective,” Sarah Bond urged those attending one of 28 breakout sessions. The professor at SIU-Carbondale challenged church leaders to “become the change-maker God intends you to be.”

She—and the other trainers and equippers—found a ready audience.

“When I was pastoring it was alarming to discover that my leadership was one of the obstacles to the growth of the church,” said Mark Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director of the Church Resources Team. Emerson’s pastoral experience helped him in planning the Summit. “In my ministry, I discovered if we were going to grow a congregation, I had to grow as a leader. It is important for leaders to realize their leadership lid and to grow past it.”

For attenders at the Summit, much of the experience was about discoveries about themselves.

“When we do this kind of leadership development, pastors begin to get excited about their own growth and the growth of leaders in their church,” Emerson said. “I believe every pastor believes leadership development is important, yet it tends to get lost amid the plethora of other ministry tasks.”

Doers vs. developers

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Mac Lake

Lake opened the conference with a story about the small town where he grew up, and the small church where he grew as a leader. Handley, West Virginia, peaked at 633 residents in 1980.

“I don’t think we ever broke 70 (attenders) at Handley Baptist Church,” he said, calling his home church not small, but “normative.” It was the same size as most Southern Baptist churches. Yet, it was in this environment that Lake discovered he could be a leader. “That church taught me how to love like Jesus and how to live like Jesus…. The opportunity the normative-size church gave me to serve like Jesus and develop my leadership skills started there as a kid.”

Lake said leadership development is vital for all disciples of Christ no matter where they are in their Christian walk. He shared the story of his three “conversions” in his personal growth. Lake said:

(1) He went from “lost to found” when he was saved at 9 years old at that small church in West Virginia, then
(2) he went from “being a ministry doer to a ministry leader” when he was in seminary at 27, and finally
(3) a few years later as an associate pastor, he went from “leader to developer of leaders.”

“One of the biggest challenges for leaders who move to this level of leadership is continuing to act like a leader rather than a leader of leaders,” Lake said, offering a comparison between disciples and disciple-leaders. At first glance, discipleship training and leadership development might seem similar. While they go hand in hand, there are important distinctions. For example:

• Discipleship focuses on intimacy with God while leadership development focuses on influence with others.
• Discipleship is learning to live like Jesus while leadership development is learning to lead like Jesus.
• In discipleship, a person is learning to lead himself, while leadership development teaches how to lead others.
• Finally, discipleship works on the character of the person while leadership development works on his or her competency.

“While some people make the jump from disciple to leader in our churches, many aren’t prepared to do it,” Lake said. “Nobody taught them before they got thrown in. So you have all these people in the swimming pool of leadership and they are splashing and hollering—nearly drowning—because they don’t know how to swim. Their leadership, the church’s ministries, and even their personal relationship with God will grow to a whole new level once they are developing as leaders.”

“It’s like asking a lost person to reach someone for the Lord. They’ve never had that conversion so they don’t have the knowledge and realization they need.”

Without a consistent and intentional leadership development plan, many of the great “doers” of the church or ministry will struggle in leadership positions. “It’s like asking a lost person to reach someone for the Lord,” Lake said. “They’ve never had that conversion so they don’t have the knowledge and realization they need.”

Leaders often find themselves focusing more on the work than on the workers, and that has a limiting effect on the growth of ministry. “One of your primary responsibilities as a leader is stewarding the gifts and strengths of those in your charge,” Lake advised. Most churches structure for ministry function, rather than for leader development, he warned.

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A glimpse of the future
Developing the next generation of leaders presents many challenges in this culture of never-ending distractions and instant gratification, but Lake is optimistic about the future of the church.

“Millennials in general place an extremely high value on relationships and authentic faith-sharing,” he said. “A pastor willing to mentor this group must be vulnerable. They need to see we’re all co-learners because, in reality, we are. A 50-year-old pastor is no longer in the world he knew. He’s living in their world.”

He said all leaders must understand the dangers of social media and the challenge to stay focused and turn off distractions. At the same time, leaders must see how social networking can be beneficial for the work of God and utilize its potential for kingdom growth. “With technology and all that it entails, mentors have to embrace this world and ask for help navigating this new culture to stay relevant,” Lake said.

“With technology and all that it entails, mentors have to embrace this world and ask for help navigating this new culture to stay relevant.”

Though Lake has taught leadership to pastors and church planters across the country, this was one of the few statewide conferences he’s been invited to where the main purpose was to teach leaders how to lead with excellence.

“Illinois Baptists see the need to build a culture of leadership development,” Lake said. “Too many visions die because the leader never trained others to do what he did. The Great Commission is a vision big enough for others to give their lives to. We have to think in terms of ‘generations.’”

We used to tell leaders to “replace themselves” by training others to come after you. “Don’t replace yourself, reproduce yourself” with leaders to work alongside you, he concluded.

Lake said he prays that together leaders will create the culture in their churches that will produce the best harvest. “I applaud the Illinois Baptists for feeding their pastors and helping with the challenge of leadership issues,” he said. “This is important and these are things you don’t necessarily learn in seminary.”

– Reported by Kayla Rinker, Lisa Sergent, Meredith Flynn, and Eric Reed

Illinois Leadership Summit January 24, 2017

Nate Adams, IBSA Executive Director, talks with a pastor at the Illinois Leadership Summit January 24, 2017 in Springfield.

“Personal development requires surrender and sacrifice,” shared leadership expert Mac Lake.

“If I want to grow myself there’s a price I have to pay…Discipline is often the cost we’re not willing to pay.”

More than 250 leaders gathered in Springfield for the Jan. 24-25 Illinois Leadership Summit. Mac Lake, the architect of The Launch Network, a church planting network, served as the summit’s keynote speaker and was joined by 18 break out session leaders. Together, they taught the men and women in attendance practical ways to became better leaders and how to use what they’ve learned to develop leaders in their own churches.

Visit our Facebook page to watch video from Tuesday evening’s session, and learn from Lake:

– Why people don’t do what you want them to do
– About the strengthen conversation
– How to do one minute goal setting

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter hear from some of the breakout session leaders, and read the Feb. 6 Illinois Baptist newspaper for complete coverage of the Illinois Leadership Summit.

Especially for leaders, new years require fresh vision. And for Christian leaders, fresh vision requires prayer. But quality prayer takes time and, for me at least, finding that time is one of the biggest challenges I face.

Time is so precious. I often feel I don’t have enough of it simply to do well with my family, my job, my church. So I end up giving almost all my time to those things, and telling myself that God will understand.

He understands, I’m sure. But he can’t be pleased.

shortage-of-prayerIt’s been well said that you spell love: T-I-M-E. And since prayer is an expression of my love for God, and I need quality time with God to gain fresh vision for the future and power for daily living, then I must spell prayer the same way. Prayer deserves my time.

I’m convinced I’m not alone in this struggle. Many of today’s well-intentioned pastors and Christian leaders are so pressed for time. And prayer can become one of the earliest casualties of a busy schedule. Yet the shortage of serious time for prayer becomes quickly evident in a leader’s life, and in the fruit of his or her ministry. I know they are in mine.

That’s why I struggled recently when I was asked to bring a devotional word to a national gathering of SBC prayer leaders in Chicago. With some difficulty, I decided to be vulnerable. I admitted to them that I am ashamed of how little I rely on prayer compared to my own efforts. I too rarely engage God in a way that invites him to override my desires or plans. Mostly, I quickly ask him to bless what I’m rushing off to do. I told them I see this happening with Christian leaders everywhere, and that we as leaders need their help reprioritizing prayer in our lives.

Then we looked at Gideon’s experience in Judges 6-7. Like this timid, reluctant, and frustrated leader, we often toil away in our own strength at things that don’t really help much, rather than inviting God into our challenges, and letting him empower our leadership.

But one life-changing day Gideon and God, as “the Angel of the Lord,” had a conversation that has deeply challenged me about my own prayer life. Here’s a summary of what I said about it in my devotion for those prayer leaders:

Gideon was weak when his extended conversation with God began, but God loves to use weak people. Though God initiated the conversation, Gideon did most of the talking, at first. Then, after questions and fleeces, there was a moment of surrender, when Gideon gave his fears, desires, and plans over to God. After that, God did most of the talking, and acting. Gideon never had to say, “God said obey me…” to the people he led. He simply acted with a new boldness that came out of his personal conversation with God. And the people gladly followed him in his obedience to God, with a powerful result that brought God glory and his people victory.

That’s the kind of prayer encounter I need. Gideon was a small man and a reluctant, fearful leader.But all that changed when he engaged God in extended, serious prayer.

In this coming new year, I have concluded that I must do whatever it takes to meet God like that. And I must encourage and facilitate that in the lives of those I lead and influence. I look around me, in Southern Baptist life and elsewhere, and I see that there are others sensing the same need. By God’s grace, a new year gives us more time. Let’s be leaders who give a great deal of that time to God in prayer.

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

Lessons from Tom Adams

ib2newseditor —  March 31, 2016
Tom Adams

Tom Adams

It still surprises and moves me that so many people in Illinois Baptist churches fondly remember my father Tom Adams, or at least his writing. Dad entered his eternal life with the Lord ten years ago, just one month after I began my role here as IBSA’s executive director. Yet more often than not when I visit a church, one or more of its members will tell me how much my dad or his writing meant to them.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for one of those older church members to reach into their Bible and pull out a yellowed clipping of one of his columns because it met a particular, deep need in their lives. Dad wrote for the Illinois Baptist for 34 years, through columns such as “Problem Corner,” or “Ask Tom Adams.” So he became a sort of corresponding counselor to many.

Frankly, I thought I would have my dad’s counsel for a few more years here in Illinois.  Instead I have needed to rely on the years I had to observe him as father, pastor, and associational leader. With his memory in my heart, here are some of the lessons I learned from Tom Adams.

1. Writing broadens and lengthens influence.
Dad never pastored a large church, nor held a position of great stature. But because he wrote down carefully considered thoughts at least every couple of weeks for decades, he touched tens of thousands of people he wouldn’t have otherwise.

2. Few words can be more impactful than many words.
Dad was a man of few words interpersonally, and the format of his columns gave him only a little room to express an opinion or idea in writing. But he demonstrated both in speech and writing that a few, carefully considered words can have great impact. Apparently they also fit better in your Bible.

3. Readers are better leaders.
My dad would be the first to admit that his wisdom didn’t come from his own deep intellect or extensive formal education. But he was one of the more widely read men I have ever known. Just ask my mom, whose house is still filled with an incredible variety of books, even after giving many away. I’ve never been the avid reader my dad was. But I’ve rarely gone in to a serious meeting or problem without doing my homework.

4. Face your fears with faith.
I didn’t know it until years later, but my dad was scared to death to move our family from Southern Illinois to the Chicago area. My mom tells me he became physically ill over the decision to follow God’s call there. What was very hard for him became very good for me, and in their own ways for the rest of our family. For reasons I can’t go into here, I doubt very much if I would be at IBSA today if he hadn’t made that move when I was fourteen. But his example helps me face my fears with faith, even today.

5. Invest fully where you are.
Dad was never a self-promoter, or a ladder-climber. I know he dreamed of another position or two in his life, but he always chose to invest fully where he was called, until God through others beckoned him elsewhere. Me too.

I jotted down some other lessons I learned from Tom Adams: Do what you know is right, and trust God with the consequences. Marry well and let your spouse be herself.  How you say something can be just as important as what you say.  Some burdens are best borne privately.  Leaders come in all personality types.

A few years ago my mom and I helped my dad organize some of his Illinois Baptist columns into a book, titled after one of his columns, “Speaking Out.” If you don’t have a copy and will write me, I will be glad to send you one. He would be pleased for you to have it.  And I will be pleased for his influence to touch your life, as it deeply has mine.

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

Eleven Portraits

Lisa Sergent —  March 7, 2016

Eleven_portraits

In some ways I’m just getting started and just beginning to figure some things out.

Visitors to the IBSA office building in Springfield sometimes take note of eleven portraits displayed there, acknowledging the men who have served IBSA as executive director since its formation in 1907. Those portraits used to hang in the entrance lobby, and since our building renovation a few years ago they have been on display in our first floor Resource Room.

While it’s hard for me to believe, by God’s grace I have just celebrated 10 years in that executive director role. That milestone recently led me to a few reflective moments in front of those portraits. Four of those men are simply historical figures to me, but I’ve had the privilege of meeting the other six personally. They each served in different times and faced different challenges, but together they form the legacy of leadership on which I now gratefully stand.

I’ve been told by others around the Southern Baptist Convention that 10 years seems to be about the typical length of service in the state executive director role. Since years of service are noted on a little plaque beneath each of the IBSA portraits, I did the math and learned that indeed the average term of service here in Illinois has been just over nine years.

There are, however, two distinct groups of IBSA executive directors among my 10 predecessors. Six men served less than seven years, and four served 12 or more. The smaller, longer-serving group were four of the first five executive directors, all of whom completed their service by the 1970s. The larger, shorter-serving group represent the more current trend. And at 10 years’ service, I now stand in the middle.

There are many reasons why leaders stay in roles for a short time, including some which are beyond their control. So I wouldn’t second guess the Lord’s leadership or providence in any of the shorter terms of service. But after investing 10 years here at IBSA, I have a new appreciation for the men in the longer term group.

It takes time to establish relationships, and to build trust. It takes time to learn the many systems and traditions and landmines inherent in a thousand diverse churches working together. It takes time to learn the regional and ethnic and generational uniqueness of churches and their leaders. It takes time to take necessary risks and make unavoidable mistakes, and then to recover and learn from them. And I’m now discovering that it takes time to do it all again and again, as new pastors and leaders come on the scene.

After 10 years, I feel in some ways I’m just getting started and just beginning to figure some things out. Yet by the law of averages I’ve already had as many years as most executive directors ever get. It makes me admire the men who stayed 12, or 17, or 19 years.

And it makes me want to sprint right past this 10-year mark and see what might be possible in the company of these long-tenured men that preceded me.

It’s certainly possible to overstay your welcome, or to outstay your effectiveness. And it’s always best when a leader can recognize that time long before anyone else does. But for the most part, it can be very good for an organization and its mission when a leader finds favor and stays.

So if you are wondering whether to stay and persevere where you are, let me encourage you to do so if at all possible. One day you will take your place among the portraits of former leaders in your place of service. It may be less and less common for leaders to stay long in one place. But if God gives you grace and favor to do so, I believe you will find a unique influence that only comes with time.

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