Archives For Midwest

By Eric Reed

Ben Mandrell held a meeting with the employees at LifeWay last week, the first since he was elected by the LifeWay trustees to serve as CEO of Southern Baptists’ publishing entity. The meeting was invigorating, by all reports, as the Nashville team saw Mandrell’s passion for spreading the gospel and for advancing LifeWay’s mission in a mostly-digital era. Dressed in the jeans and plaid shirt common among church planters, and with his charming wife, Lynley, on stage with him, Mandrell said he had not sought the position, and only accepted when it was made clear to them both that God was leading in his nomination.

Whatever doubts outsiders to the selection process may have concerning the visionary large-church planter’s lack of publishing experience may have been assuaged by his assessment of the issues facing LifeWay—and especially in relation to these challenging times in our culture.

For us Southern Baptists ministering outside the deep South, Mandrell’s apparent understanding that what still works in the Bible Belt doesn’t work as well in the Midwest any longer is encouraging. As a native of Tampico, Illinois (“I will always have a heart for Illinois people! Those are my people,” he told this newspaper in June), his Midwestern background will well inform key decisions leading what was once the Baptist Sunday School Board. Successful ministry as a church planter in Colorado will illuminate further advancement of the gospel in places that are gospel-ignorant and even gospel-averse.

The whole of American culture is moving that way, even in the South. People like Jeff Iorg, from his outpost as a seminary president in San Francisco and now in Los Angeles, have warned us for years that what becomes legal and acceptable in the West (and we would add, the Northeast) is a nascent wave that will sweep the rest of the nation. Certainly we are seeing that in Illinois, with much redoubtable legislation shaking the moral ground beneath our feet.

Perhaps Mandrell can join Iorg and others in sharpening the skills needed by Baptists—Southerners, Midwesterners, and all—to uphold Christ and advance his gospel in an increasingly dystopian world. “Lord,” Mandrell prayed at that team meeting, “give us a servant’s heart and help us to be willing to do whatever we need to do to make LifeWay what it needs to be.”

To that we would say, Amen.

– Eric Reed

Three Illinois girls

Lisa Misner —  June 24, 2019

By Nate Adams

This month it is my privilege to officiate the wedding ceremony of our youngest son, Ethan, and his fiancée, Alyssa. They will be married in Elgin, where they first met as Judson University students six years ago, and where my wife, Beth, and I also met more than forty years ago.

Our middle son, Noah, is also married to an Alyssa, and so we will gladly navigate that potential confusion at family get togethers. They met in high school, however, here in Springfield, not long after I came to serve at IBSA.

And our oldest son, Caleb, literally met his wife, Laura, at IBSA. They were in high school at the time, though it wasn’t until a few years later that they reconnected for good. Both Laura’s mom, Melissa, and I worked at IBSA. One summer we dragged our two reluctant college students to the IBSA family picnic. They started writing letters, and now they’ve been married six years.

Especially as parents who mainly know boys, Beth and I are so grateful for these three young ladies who have become our daughters. All are devoted Christ-followers who love the Lord and are active with our sons in local Baptist churches. Each one is delightful, gifted, and unique. And we are especially blessed with the genuine friendship these six young adults have with one another—and with us.

And so, I want to say thank you. Thank you first to the Lord, of course, who sovereignly brought these three couples together in his perfect timing. But thank you also to the IBSA Board and the larger Illinois Baptist family, who more than thirteen years ago called me to bring a wife, three teenage sons, and a slightly quirky dog to serve the churches of Illinois. As I occasionally remind each of our sons, we have prayed for their future wives since before they were born. As it turns out, all of them were here in Illinois.

As our youngest son marries, I’m finding grace in unlikely places.

As we discussed wedding preparations, each of our sons and their fiancées asked me to make sure that their marriage ceremonies contained clear gospel presentations. They asked me to underscore that Christ is the center of their relationships, and that by his grace he will be the lifelong foundation of their marriages. What a privilege it is to prepare a marriage ceremony with that charge.

There were a number of challenging topics that I considered writing about this month. The Southern Baptist Convention will convene in Birmingham and face several difficult issues, including recent accusations of sex abuse in churches and even by missionaries. Leaders will seek the best paths forward for effectively helping prevent the travesty of sex abuse in churches.

Also, at the end of their May session, the Illinois legislature approved the “Reproductive Health Act” that legalizes abortion through nine months of pregnancy, requires all insurance to cover abortions, and allows nurse practitioners to perform abortions. This appalling legislation is a major setback to the pro-life movement in Illinois. The action stands in stark contrast to recent legislation in states including Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama that have sought to limit or end abortion.

So it’s a tough month for Southern Baptists in Illinois. But right in the middle of that, I get to celebrate this wedding, this testimony to the gospel message and to Christ and his church. I get to welcome this wonderful young lady into our family, and watch our son be welcomed into hers. And I get to remember that God called me here to this often tough Midwest mission field, and that his grace and provision are still evident, in at least three Illinois girls.

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

The Midwest Takeover

ib2newseditor —  September 8, 2016

The Midwest has been big this summer. Big enough that we in our office coined the phrase, “The Midwest Takeover,” as a way to describe how Baptist leaders from our region have been significantly more visible than in recent years.

The takeover started with the new slate of officers elected at the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis: An Illinois pastor and three Missourians were chosen to fill national SBC posts, while an Iowan will head up next year’s Pastors’ Conference.

Then, Sandy Wisdom-Martin, who led Illinois Woman’s Missionary Union before moving to Texas, was chosen to lead National WMU.

There’s even evidence of a Midwestern swing in the national election, as Indiana Governor Mike Pence works to bring solid, traditional values to Donald Trump’s controversial campaign.

Our region isn’t the buckle of the Bible Belt…but God can do things people say can’t be done, like growing a church in the Midwest.

The national election has crystallized the need for “Midwestern values,” as the culture shifts in ways most thought it never would, and as leadership we can be proud of seems hard to come by.

In the SBC, the election of Midwestern leaders may well represent a new day for the denomination. One with the understanding that Baptist thought and doctrine isn’t just rooted in the Deep South, and that while traditionally SBC-strong states have much to offer in the way of ministry innovation, so do “pioneer” regions.

Like Illinois, where FBC O’Fallon pastor and newly elected SBC First Vice President Doug Munton has served for more than 20 years. He is strong in his support for the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ chief method for funding ministry and missions. But he’s also honest about the challenges of pastoring in a suburban community made even more transient by its proximity to Scott Air Force Base.

Midwestern leaders understand the challenges Baptists face in a changing world, because they’ve met those challenges as workers in regions with few evangelical churches. Our region isn’t the buckle of the Bible Belt, Munton told the Illinois Baptist in May, but God can do things people say can’t be done, like growing a church in the Midwest.

We usually think of pioneers as starters, people who are willing to do hard, unheard-of things—impossible even—for the sake of a better future.

As the work of sharing the gospel and making disciples gets more difficult, this influx of the “pioneer spirit” could be just what the SBC needs.

– MDF

Church in the United StatesThe election for President of the Southern Baptist Convention last month understandably attracted a lot of attention. But I was just as intrigued with the election for President of the annual SBC Pastors Conference that took place the day before.

Dave Miller, pastor of a medium-sized church in Sioux City, Iowa, somewhat surprisingly prevailed with 55% of the vote. The Pastors Conference President has traditionally been a megachurch pastor, often from a southern or larger state.

From my perspective, Pastor Miller ran not so much on his personal ministry resume as on a platform of ideas that proposed taking at least the 2017 Pastors Conference in a very new direction. Conference speakers would be only from SBC churches. No one who has spoken at the Pastors Conference in the past five years would speak at the 2017 meeting. Speakers would represent a diversity of geography, age, ethnicity, preaching style, and perspective. And there would be a focus on inviting pastors to speak who lead churches of 500 or fewer.

I’m glad we are reminded that these churches have a lot
to offer.

Not many of these parameters describe the Pastors Conferences of recent years, and the new ideas clearly resonated with a majority of those voting. Pastor Miller was elected, and his response the next day in his SBC Voices blog reminded me a little of the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.” He wrote, “The budget of this two-day event is pretty much the annual budget of my church…But we are in this together and we are going to be looking to expand our circle.”

While I personally would have been glad for either candidate to lead next year’s Pastors Conference, I can’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction in the ideas that it appears will now influence next year’s program. I too have wondered why the same men sometimes speak in consecutive years of the Pastors Conference, or why speakers aren’t always from SBC churches.

Most of all, as a Midwestern Southern Baptist, I celebrate the idea that there are gifted preachers in small to medium-sized churches, and in churches outside the Deep South, and in churches of diverse cultural settings. The Pastors Conference will benefit from some of these voices, as it has from the gifted communicators who lead many of our megachurches.

After 10 years at IBSA, I still speak in or visit a church for the very first time at least once or twice a month. Many times someone in those churches will say something like, “We didn’t think you would come to a church our size,” or “We waited until our 100th anniversary to invite you because we know you’re so busy.”

I’m always humbled and a little embarrassed by those assumptions. So I want to say again that IBSA and I personally truly desire to serve and assist each and every local church we can, regardless of size, location, ethnicity, or age. Especially if I’ve never been there, I would love to come to your church, to get to know your church family, and to listen to your pastor or give him a week off, whatever serves the church best.

The average Southern Baptist church in Illinois had about 80 in worship last year. Across the SBC, the average was around 110. It may be that larger churches tend to have more full-time pastors and more practiced and polished preachers. But the ones I’ve been learning from all my life lead these wonderful, average churches. I’m glad a pastor from western Iowa reminded us that pastors from these churches have a lot to offer. And I’d love to come and worship in yours sometime soon.

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

Evangelistic_churches_3HEARTLAND | The average Southern Baptist church in the Midwest has 54 people in worship on Sunday mornings, and baptized three last year. But a North American Mission Board study found the top evangelistic churches in the region are charting a different course, said Joel Southerland, NAMB’s executive director of evangelism strategies.

The Midwest’s top evangelistic churches with less than 250 in worship attendance averaged 119 in worship and had 23 baptisms. Churches with more than 250 in worship averaged 71 baptisms.

Southerland shared findings from the NAMB study of the top 20 evangelizing churches in every U.S. state at the Illinois Baptist State Association’s Evangelism Conference in March, and in a breakout session at the Midwest Leadership Summit earlier this year. The study resulted in a list of “7 Secrets of Top Evangelistic Churches in the SBC.”

  1. It has a lot to do with the pastor. NAMB studied the pastors of top evangelistic churches and found that the majority described their leadership style as “charismatic” or “transformational,” outranking innovative, command and control, servant, situational, laissez-faire and pace setter.

The pastors they studied were at the churches 10-plus years on average, Southerland said, and 70% of them preach a sermon series on evangelism every year. More than half (55%) put more emphasis on evangelism than discipleship, and 90% share the gospel outside the church at least once a month.

  1. Top evangelistic churches are really good at the Sunday morning experience. Of the pastors surveyed, 93% described their worship as lively and celebratory, 95% were contemporary or blended in worship style, and 96% said they intentionally cultivate a guest-friendly atmosphere. And 70% give an invitation at the end of the service.

Southerland outlined several worship takeaways: make church exciting, work on the quality, be intentionally evangelistic on Sunday morning, and aim for something better than “friendly.” People aren’t looking for friendly, he said, they’re looking for friends.

  1. These churches are actively engaged and serving the community, no matter the size of the congregation. Of the pastors surveyed, 88% said they were well engaged in the community. Of mid-sized top evangelistic churches, 30% attempt service-based ministry efforts to share the gospel regularly, as do 37% of large churches.

It’s OK to start small with community engagement, Southerland counseled, just start somewhere. And preferably not in a vacuum. Talk to community leaders about the needs are, and how your church can help. Involve non-Christians, using the service as an opportunity to share the gospel with them.

  1. Top evangelistic churches communicate well, internally and externally. The average pastor makes too many assumptions about how much people know, Southerland said. They assume the congregation knows the church’s vision, that members are as passionate about reaching people as the pastor, and that they don’t need constant motivation.

But all of those things—and more—need to be communicated. Luckily, more avenues for communication exist now than ever before. Of the top evangelistic church pastors surveyed, 97% use a church Facebook account regularly, Southerland cited. Half of pastors and staff intentionally “friend” guests on Facebook.

  1. Virtually all top evangelistic churches make a big deal out of baptisms—97%, the NAMB survey reported. And 79% of pastors of churches in the mid-size church category preach a yearly sermon on baptism, as do 74% of large-church pastors.

The takeaways, Southerland said, are to preach at least once on baptism every year, provide a forum for people to give their own, recorded testimonies, help baptismal candidates invite family and friends to the service, and train your church to celebrate new spiritual life.

  1. They treat guests really well. In non-evangelistic churches, Southerland said, the service is for the members and guests just happen to be there. Evangelistic churches are the opposite; of the congregations NAMB surveyed 67% of mid-size churches and 85% of large churches had a person responsible for “first impressions” ministry targeted to visitors.

A large majority (70%) emailed, called and sent written mail to a guest within seven days of their visit.

  1. Top evangelistic churches emphasize inviting and personal evangelism. The pastors of the churches NAMB studied were very busy mobilizing their church members to be a witness in the community; 50% offered evangelism training, and 70% of their guests came to church as a result of a personal invitation from a member. Among mid-sized churches, 62% have visitation or organized outreach at least once a month, and 58% of large churches do the same.

Churches that train members in personal evangelism, Southerland said, baptize two-and-a-half times more people than those that don’t.

The value of a verbal witness cannot be underestimated, he said during a message at the IBSA conference. Especially when most people are broken and looking for a solution to their problems.

“We are far too timid when it comes to sharing the gospel. We are too scared of the culture.” But, “The culture is not near as bad as it could be or will be someday. We’re to take the gospel to the culture and change the culture with Jesus Christ.”

Church leaders from 13 states converge for regional Summit

NEWS | Illinois Baptist

“Listen to me, Midwest, the Father is seeking worshipers,” Frank Page intoned. “Every man woman, boy and girl on this globe needs to hear this message.”

The man who calls himself “the SBC’s Chief Encouragement Officer” rallied local church leaders to advance the gospel in a region where Southern Baptists are relatively few and often far between. “I’m not trying to build a bigger denomination,” the CEO of the Convention’s Executive Committee said, “I’m trying to encourage you to help bring worshipers to Christ.”

Spiritual awakening and church revitalization were main themes of the Midwest Leadership Summit held January 20-22.

“What we need, more than a strategy, more than a plan, we need a fresh awakening,” Kansas pastor Andy Addis preached in the opening session. “We want to see God do amazing things, we want to be his hands and feet, that’s why we’re here!”

More than 1,000 pastors and church leaders from the Upper Midwest convened in Springfield for the inspirational equipping conference held every three years. Called the North Central States Rally since its inception 50 years ago, the Summit was renamed this year as it expanded to include 10 Baptist state conventions representing 13 states, from West Virginia to the Dakotas.

The Illinois Baptist State Association hosted the event at the Springfield Crowne Plaza Hotel, providing a more central location as the Summit’s territory expanded on the western side. IBSA executive director Nate Adams chaired the planning committee.

“We drove 10 hours to get here,” one conferee from South Dakota said at the registration desk, telling how his association invited church leaders and brought them in a van.

“It took us two days,” a North Dakota pastor in a bolo tie responded, “but it’ll be worth it.” The buzz in the lobby was positive, as returning attenders told newcomers the value of meeting for leaders who share the challenges of ministry outside the traditional Southern Baptist stronghold.

Henry Hall has been attending the triennial leadership conference since 1984. The director of missions for Salem South Baptist Association said the event was originally designed “for the smaller churches, mission churches, where the pastors are spread out. And most of our churches in the southern part (of Illinois), we’re not as spread out,” Hall said.

“But around the rest of the country, you’ve got to go a long time to find another pastor. And by getting a group together that are all in the same boat, it’s very effective to help them in learning and being what God would have them to be.”

When Gary Frost led Summit attenders to intercede in small groups for children and youth, IBSA’s Pat Pajak (left) prayed with Ken and Kathy Schultz from Crosswinds Church in Plainfield, and a pastor from Iowa.

When Summit speaker Gary Frost led attenders to intercede in small groups for children and youth, IBSA’s Pat Pajak (left) prayed with Ken and Kathy Schultz from Crosswinds Church in Plainfield, and a pastor from Iowa.

 

Tony Manning lives in Fishers, Indiana, a community of 85,000 people, without a single Southern Baptist church—yet. “The need for everyone is the gospel, and that doesn’t change from East coast to West Coast,” said Manning, a church-planting and mission-teams strategist. “But what does change is how to do things. It’s important to understand the Midwest perspective and how to leverage that in sharing the gospel: How do you do it in Indiana? In Iowa? In Wisconsin?”

Woodie Ladnier has pastored in Iowa since 1991. Recently called to a new congregation, he came looking for fresh ministry ideas. “You know you’re not in the Bible Belt. People in the Midwest are friendly, but you have to earn their trust. You have to be more intentional, because your ol’ buddies aren’t just gonna go to church with you.”

The three-day summit was sponsored by the North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, National WMU, and the 10
state conventions. Conferees attended three large-group sessions at the Crowne Plaza, filling the largest ballroom with praises. (“Bless the Lord, O my soul, O-o-o my soul,” they sang; and those three bass thumps ahead of the gutsy response “10,000 reasons for my soul to find…” echoed off the walls.)

Between worship sessions, leaders chose from 135 breakout sessions, state meetings, and affinity groups.

Plan to Pray for Evangelism
Robert Sterling
Imperial, Missouri

Robert Sterling knew his decision to attend the 2015 Midwest Leadership Summit was the right one after the first night. “I called my wife when I got back to the hotel room and said, ‘Well, I just got a spiritual ‘kicking’ and it was just what I needed,’” said the pastor of Windsor Baptist Church in Imperial, Missouri.

Andy Addis, lead pastor of CrossPoint Church, a video-driven multisite church with 11 campuses across Kansas, spoke during the opening session and based his message on Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13: 6-9). “He reminded us that God expects His church to bear fruit,” Sterling said. “Not hopes; expects. Not wants; expects. That concept really resonated with me.”

Sterling came to the Summit with the intention of finding both guidance and practical tools to bring his church revitalization. He found what he needed in the event’s numerous breakout sessions. He chose sessions on revival, spiritual awakening, evangelism and leadership. He said each of them offered both insight and applicable advice.

“In one of the sessions the speaker said that more than double the baptisms occur in churches that offer evangelism training than those that don’t,” he said. He also learned that though a calendar full of events and programs may not be the best way to win souls to Christ, planning to pray is.

“We need to have more opportunities to pray,” Sterling said. “God uses whatever methods or means to reach people, but the opportunity to seek prayer is vital. Honestly, each of the sessions was very encouraging in terms of reminding us of truths we already
know, but often get lost or forgotten when you are in the middle of the forest.

“Probably my number one takeaway from this is that if I want the church to be revitalized and have a true love of God, I need to make sure that’s where my focus is, too. I need to become what I want them to become.”

Overcome isolation
Tim Batchelor
Princeton, Illinois

Tim Batchelor has pastored Bethel Baptist Church in Princeton, since 2010. Originally from North Carolina, he has found similarities between his upbringing (both of his grandfathers were farmers) and the rural northwest Illinois community he serves. But there are  differences too.

“In North Carolina, if you took the county that I grew up in, there are probably more Southern Baptist churches just in that county than in the entire northwest region of Illinois, and Sinnissippi Baptist Association specifically.”

When asked if his region of Illinois feels unchurched, Batchelor says yes.

“We were talking about that last night at dinner a little bit, and even on our way from our hotel to the session last night. Yeah, it does feel that way, and the need for church planting in particular.

“Sinnissippi Baptist Association has a really ambitious planting strategy; I think it’s just fantastic. But yeah, the need for church planting is huge.”

Second-gen strategies
Aidyl Lesada
Trenton, Michigan

Aidyl Lesada is from a Filipino congregation of about 100 people in Taylor, Michigan. “We are a mother church,” she says of Philippine International Church, which has planted several Filipino congregations in the area, and one just across the Canadian border.

There are about 20,000 Filipino people in Michigan, Lesada says. “Filipinos come here to work and pursue that American dream, and so they give their life, their time for that, and so I guess church will not be a priority. It will just be on the side for them, for them to feel good about it.”

Many have a Catholic background, so making the distinction between faith in Christ and cultural religion is important. Lesada’s church is reaching Filipinos who came to America to work in professional fields, and are now raising second- and third-generation children. Like her own son and daughter. Laughing, she describes them this way: “They’re Filipinos, but they’re not Filipinos.”

Social media for Millennials
Laura Chapman
Red Bud, Illinois

At Laura Chapman’s first Midwest Leadership Summit, the pastor’s wife from Red Bud attended breakout sessions that spoke some of her languages—statistics and social media.

Their congregation is medium-sized and located on the edge of the Metro East area. First Baptist Church of Red Bud, doesn’t have very many Millennials, she said, so a breakout on using social media to reach younger people was helpful.

“You know, there are a lot of people in our churches that don’t know what hashtags are, or keywords, or current things that reach people we’re not reaching,” Chapman said. “And I think just the how-to’s, the nuts and bolts of ‘you gotta update your website, you just have to do that…’ helps bring in generations that we’re not reaching. That was very helpful, and easy to implement.”

One breakout session leader at the Summit said if Millennials can’t find a Facebook page for a church, they wonder what that church is hiding. Chapman understands that kind of thinking. “Nobody in my generation and below trusts people…that’s kind of our thing. So, help them to know you.”

Urban challenges
Donald Johnson
Rock Island, Illinois

This wasn’t the first Midwest Leadership Summit for Donald Johnson, pastor of Destiny Baptist Church of Christ in Rock Island. He traveled to Indianapolis for the “North Central States Rally,” as it was called before this year, and was glad for a slightly shorter commute—three hours instead of five.

“But wherever it is, I’m willing to go, because of the value that we get out of it…We’ve been enriched,” said Johnson, whose church is part of Quad Cities Association.

Destiny’s vision statement is based in Isaiah 56:7, “to be a house of prayer for all races of people.” Their goal is to be multi-racial rather than multi-cultural, Johnson said. “There’s not going to be a segregated heaven, so I don’t want to have a segregated church.”

He was moved by Gary Frost’s closing sermon, which focused in part on the dangers children and teenagers face today. “He got into my neighborhood, which is the same neighborhood he has,” Johnson said. In his community, “We deal with the matter of significant fatherlessness.”

Frost’s message focused on returning to “the valley” after a mountaintop experience. Speaking on Jesus’ transfiguration in Mark 9, he noted how Peter wanted to build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

“For me, it was good to be here,” Johnson said. “But I’m not going to be like Peter and John and say, ‘Let’s build three tabernacles here on the mountain and stay.’

“Because we gotta get back to the valley.”

Reported by Meredith Flynn, Eric Reed and Lisa Sergent, with Kayla Rinker and Nick Rynerson.

HEARTLAND | Hundreds of leaders from 13 states across the Midwest were in Springfield, Ill., last week for the Midwest Leadership Summit, a triennial training event facilitated by state Baptist conventions in the region and national Southern Baptist entities. These “man on the street” interviews were conducted on Wednesday, a day full a breakout sessions on evangelism and discipleship, missions, women’s ministry, and dozens of other topics.

Read more about the Midwest Leadership Summit at www.Facebook.com/IllinoisBaptist, and in the next issue of the Illinois Baptist newspaper, online at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.