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Michael Allen is one of two Chicago preachers at Pastors Conference


Chicago’s Uptown Baptist Church pastor Michael Allen preaches at the copy of Spurgeon’s pulpit, on loan to the 2017 SBC Pastors Conference from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. (BP photo/Matt Miller)

(Editor’s note: An informal survey of five people in a hotel shuttle van in Phoenix—all who coincidentally had lived in Chicago until a couple of years ago—reported Michael Allen’s sermon was well received by attenders at the conference. And they said they felt well-represented. Here is the Baptist Press summary of the sermon.)

“There is an obsession these days with leadership and not followership,” said Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill.

“Yet, there are at least twice as many scriptural references to followership than there are to leadership.”

Preaching from Philippians 3:17–4:1, Allen said those verses show that there are two imperatives to followership: 1) In verse 17, Paul exhorts the people to join in — to become like him as he follows Christ. 2) In the same verse, Paul says to pay attention, or to scope out other saints who are already living according to the example of other saints.

“Paul is not talking about a program for your church,” he said. “He’s talking about following godly people. It’s not about borrowing a sermon or a song you got at a conference but by being influenced by those who are worthy of being imitated.”

Allen said that when he was called to preach 27 years ago, he was part of the college and career class taught by Susie Hawkins at First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale. He asked the pastor, O.S. Hawkins, how he knew he was called to preach.

Hawkins looked him in the eye and said “Michael, if you can do anything else in the world and be happy, then do it. But if you can’t be happy unless you’re preaching, then it may very well be that God has called you to preach.”

Allen, who at the time worked as a field service computer technician, said he had listened to Hawkins for years exposit whole chapters of the Bible. He watched O.S. and Susie relate to each other, and he watched as they raised their daughters to be fine wives and mothers.

“He’s always left me with some kind of personal encouragement,” he said.

“So now, I always try to give a word or a touch of encouragement to others. … Be a Paul to someone else. No one becomes a great leader without first being a great follower.”

The other Illinois pastor who preached in Phoenix is David Choi. Read about his message here.

Billed as the small church pastor’s conference, the annual meeting-before-the-meeting starts Sunday evening with Chicago church planter David Choi, pastor of Church of the Beloved in the city’s University District. He will be followed on Monday by Uptown Baptist Church Pastor Michael Allen.

Iowa pastor and blogger Dave Miller ran for president of the SBC Pastors Conference on an “average-church” platform. He promised to bring speakers from regular-size churches, instead of the usual slate of megachurch pastors and parachurch preachers. He also planned to focus on a single book of the Bible, with the preachers taking successive passages, rather than letting speakers take their best shot at a theme.

The book is Philippians.

Choi will start with chapter 1, the first eleven verses. Allen will preach Philippians 3:17-21 on Monday evening. They are among 12 preachers from regular-size churches.

Filling the bill may have been a challenge. Often megachurch pastors who serve as president of the conference have their churches to fill that role, and their megachurch colleagues help fund it. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary came alongside Miller to plan and execute the event.

With NOBTS’ assistance, four pastors of larger churches were invited to bring “testimonies”: Johnny Hunt, J.D. Greear, Fred Luter, and Steve Gaines, current SBC President. Music is by Keith and Kristyn Getty, famed composers of “In Christ Alone.”

With an SBC Annual Meeting located as far west as Phoenix, attendance may not be as high as it is when the SBC meets in the Bible Belt. And there’s another big event in town Sunday night, the “Harvest” crusade featuring evangelist Greg Laurie. That preaching event is being simulcast to churches across the nation. This 2017 outing, which was a late addition to the schedule of convention-related events, will the replace “Crossover” evangelistic outreach next year, when the SBC meets in Houston.

Look for reports on Choi and Allen’s sermon later.

Watch it live at

— Eric Reed in Phoenix

Michael Allen

In a complete revamp from any year in memory, the 2017 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference features pastors of average-sized SBC churches who will preach through one book of the Bible—Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago and a former president of IBSA’s Pastors’ Conference, is one of 12 pastors who will take the stage in Phoenix June 11-12. The group also includes David Choi, pastor of Chicago’s Church of the Beloved.

Allen spoke with the Illinois Baptist about his upcoming message and what pastors like him contribute to the SBC family:

Q: What passage will you preach in Phoenix?

A: I’ll be preaching Philippians 3:17-21. This passage gives us a reminder of our citizenship in heaven, and helps the church distinguish itself from the world in how we think, act, and live. And then it also reminds us that it is the resurrection power of Christ that changes us both inside and out.

Q: What do you think is unique about what smaller or average-sized churches (and their pastors) add to SBC life?

A: The conference choice of pastors who lead small and medium-sized churches helps the conference attendees better identify and relate to guys just like them. We know that most churches in America, regardless of denomination, are small (less than 100). It also highlights the fact that pastors of smaller churches can effectively handle the Word of God, even in big venues. The Scriptures remind us not to “despise small beginnings” (Zech. 4:10).

Q: The conference this year also is focused on diversity. In your opinion, what is the value of hearing from pastors of different ethnicities and backgrounds?

A: We all have a unique cultural background which colors how we see and experience life. Culture also is a lens through which we see and interpret God’s Word and God himself. So hearing from ethnically diverse preachers in our convention enriches us all, because God made us different and his intentions are that we learn from and complement each other.

Q: You represent both the Midwest and one of the country’s largest cities. What about your ministry experience in Chicago do you want the larger SBC family to hear and understand?

A: The SBC family needs to understand that the world continues to move into ever-growing metropolitan cities, making them more and more diverse—ethnically, socio-economically, religiously, and every other measurement of diversity. Therefore, we have a great opportunity to win the world to Christ without ever boarding a plane.

At the same time [increasing diversity] makes ministry more complex, and more resources are needed to do ministry here. Whatever strategy the International Mission Board is using to reach the world for Christ can and should be prayerfully considered to be employed in America’s rich and diverse urban centers. IMB and the North American Mission Board ought to continue to seek ways they can collaborate with each other for the glory of God in the salvation of souls.

The primary group of preachers at the Pastors’ Conference will be joined by four pastors who will give testimonies of how their lives and ministries have benefited from smaller membership churches:

  • SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis
  • J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
  • Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., and former SBC president
  • Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, and former SBC president

For more information on the Pastors’ Conference, including a full schedule, go to

Michael_AllenChicago connections key in pastor’s new role

NEWS | Uptown Baptist Church pastor Michael Allen has been named Send City coordinator for Chicago by the North American Mission Board (NAMB). He succeeds IBSA’s Tim Cotler, who moved from the local coordinator position to a Midwest regional role in NAMB’s church planting strategy that targets 32 major metropolitan areas in North America.

The local “Send” strategy committee identified 184 areas and people groups in Chicagoland that need churches. The city itself has 77 neighborhoods. Allen says his goal is to plant 77 new churches, one in each of those neighborhoods, in the next five years.

Allen has a big job ahead of him, helping coordinate the work of churches and church planting partners, including IBSA.

“Just as Allen has adopted Chicago as his hometown, his heart is to invite a new generation of Southern Baptists to adopt Chicagoland as their mission field,” said Van Kicklighter, IBSA’s associate executive director for church planting.

“It’s like what politicians say about Iowa,” Allen said. “All roads to the White House go through Iowa. Chicago is like that when it comes to church planting. We’re such a key crossroads of our country and the world. Just about any ethnic group you want to reach with the gospel, you name it, they’re here.”

Allen has served as pastor of Uptown Baptist Church since 2005. He will continue as senior pastor at the church, whose work among an eclectic population includes weekly outreach to homeless and hungry people, as well as those living in high-rise condominiums on Lake Michigan.

“Our neighborhood is the most diverse in Chicago,” Allen said, “in any way you want to measure diversity, whether it’s educated and uneducated, rich and poor and then the various ethnic groups—those who are living in multi-million dollar homes and those living on the streets. [Uptown Church is] right in the middle of all of that, and it gives me a great learning perspective.”

Allen was born in Jamaica but moved to Florida with his family when he was 9. He first moved to Chicago to attend Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He also became the first African-American staff member of Chicago’s famous Moody Church, pastored by Erwin Lutzer.

After three years on staff at Sagemont Baptist Church in Houston, Allen returned to Chicago. He was also a NAMB missionary there while serving as pastor at Uptown.

Chicagoland is the third-largest metro area among NAMB’s 32 Send cities, topped only by New York and Los Angeles. With 308 Southern Baptist churches in the metro’s four associations, Chicagoland has only one SBC congregation for every 32,000 residents.

-Reporting by Illinois Baptist and NAMB

plateCOMMENTARY | Michael Allen

Editor’s note: Check with your doctor before beginning any kind of fast.

Forty days without food sounds extraordinary to most of us. Who can live without food for that long? You might hurt yourself; you might even die.

But after 40 days without food, I’m sure the discipline of fasting is part of God’s design for those who know Him. And it’s necessary if we’re going to see revival in our churches, our state, our country, and our world.

Last fall, I sensed God moving me toward fasting. Our church was in the middle of a capital campaign – Project Elevate – to make the building accessible for the 3,000 wheelchair-bound people in our immediate vicinity. We had a clear vision: Enabling the disabled to see and hear Jesus at Uptown Baptist Church. But we only had about 20% of what we needed to add an elevator to the building, and I was very discouraged.

But I began to sense God saying, “Michael, if you want something you’ve never had before, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done before.” I felt like God wanted me to do a 40-day fast and trust Him with the results. I told my congregation so they could fast and pray along with me.

Around that same time, the nationwide crime statistics were released, and Chicago was named the “murder capital of the U.S.” after a particularly violent year. Our city became another focus of the fast, and some sister churches in our neighborhood joined in.

On January 2, 2013, I stepped out to do something I’d never done.

I engaged in a complete food fast, drinking only liquids – water, juices, coffee and tea. In the evening, I heated up a bowl of V8 and drank it like soup. After day four or five, the light-headedness went away, I stopped feeling the hunger pangs, and I was really able to focus.

What I found is that your body actually feels better when you’re fasting, at least after those initial few days. Your mind is clearer and alert, and you’re calmer. My prayer habits changed too. My normal mode of prayer is to pray silently, but during the fast, I felt the Lord prompting me to pray out loud. Throughout the fast, I had a greater expectation of God answering my prayers, and a greater closeness and communion with Him.

I saw Him work in our church too. A few days after I started the fast, Uptown received an anonymous donation that put us over the halfway mark in our capital campaign.

When the first and second quarter crime statistics were released, we rejoiced that gun crime was down 90% in our community, and had decreased all over the city. The numbers rose in the summer, as they often do, and you may have read recently about a drive-by shooting near our church steps. A few weeks after the Aug. 19 shooting, there was another incidence of violence a block away. Both were too close to home.

But our church has responded.

So far in 2013, we have received more people in membership and baptized more than we have in any of the eight years I’ve been pastor at Uptown. We’re seeing God add to the church in greater numbers than we’ve ever seen before.

Throughout the fast, I found myself personally renewed as well. I noticed I had a hyper-sensitivity to the Word of God and the work of God around me. I tended to listen more carefully to situations that came to my attention, whether it was dealing with my children, my wife, our extended family, or issues that came up in the church.

There was a sense of incredible peace and objectivity to listen, to analyze, to empathize, and to respond with wise counsel or with whatever was appropriate for the moment. There wasn’t the usual anxiety or exhaustion that sometimes comes from dealing with those things. I felt like I was responding in the Spirit and not in the flesh.

Fasting isn’t a magic formula to fix whatever’s ailing you, your church or your city. It doesn’t ensure financial favor or less violence or personal happiness. But it does create more time margin for you to pray and seek God, for who He is and what He would have you do. And He’s faithful to provide.

Michael Allen is pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago.

Tuesday_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago held a prayer vigil last Wednesday evening after a drive-by shooting at the corner of Sheridan Rd. and Wilson Ave. rocked their neighborhood two days before. The church was in the middle of a prayer service when the shots were fired from a passing car, seriously wounding five men. One victim has since died.

Police believe the violence is gang-related.

“Just left the prayer vigil @ ubc tonight,” Pastor Michael Allen tweeted last Wednesday. “Great night. Proud of the Chicago Bride of Christ. We cried, sang, quoted Bible, prayed, hugged…”

Allen also shared through social media that six people were baptized Sunday at Wilson Ave. beach: “‘Out of the ashes we rise…there’s non like You’ Oh God!”

The Chicago Tribune interviewed Allen about his neighborhood shortly after the shooting. Read it here.

Other news:

Christian photographers fined for refusing to photograph same-sex ceremonyA New Mexico court ruled against Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, photographers who declined an assignment to shoot a same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006. Fox News reports the Huguenins turned down the “because their Christian beliefs were in conflict with the message communicated by the ceremony.” New Mexico has no statute for or against same-sex marriage; the court ruled the photographers were in violation of the state’s Human Rights Act. Read Fox News reporter Todd Starnes’ full story here.

Florida pastors take message of racial reconciliation on the road
The pastors who helped keep the peace in Sanford, Fl., during George Zimmerman’s trial and following his acquittal are on a multi-city tour to help other leaders deal with race issues in their communities. (Zimmerman was on trial for the murder of African American teen Trayvon Martin.) Christianity Today reports the pastors, who took turns sitting through Zimmerman’s trial in a show of unity with one another, were in Detroit last week and will soon visit Toledo, Charlotte, New York, Denver and Minneapolis. Read more at

Abedini denied reprieve from Iranian court
Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned in Iran since 2012, still faces the remainder of his eight year sentence, even as Abedini’s attorneys and others from the international community fought on his behalf. “The decision is deeply troubling and underscores Iran’s continued violation of principles of freedom of religion, association, peaceful assembly, and expression,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice. The Christian Post reports prayer vigils are planned for Abedini around the world on September 26. The pastor, an Iranian-American, is charged with threatening national security, but his representatives believe his imprisonment is more a result of his Christian faith. Read the The Christian Post’s full story here.

Survey measures American norms a decade after 9/11Americans report being less committed to getting ahead in life, more concerned about the future, lonelier and more stressed out in the years since September 11, 2001. Barna’s fascinating survey looks at how the last decade has changed us.