Archives For Millennials

Growing leaders

ib2newseditor —  February 7, 2017

The church’s ministry potential depends on it

2-6-17-growth-potential

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

2-6-17-mac-lake

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.

2-6-17-ils-attenders

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

ChicaGO Week mobilizes youth to missions—and inspires me deeply.

Chicago Week Group

Photo op | Part of the group from First Baptist Church O’Fallon poses for a picture before starting the daily commute back to Judson University.

Two summers in a row now I have been completely immersed in the world of the Mission Illinois Offering – helping provide churches with state missions Bible studies, crafting guides for Illinois Baptists to prayerfully walk through with one another, and working to prepare hearts for giving and supporting missions right here in our own state.

MIO-box-smallThere is one area, though, which Mission Illinois giving supports that has become especially near and dear to me: ChicaGO Week.

I have had the opportunity to cover a number of incredible stories about work that IBSA churches are doing across the state – a small, rural congregation feeding thousands of people each month, urban church planters gathering together for mutual encouragement and solidarity, children whose Christlike actions have touched the lives of adults and entire communities.

Watch the MIO video, “Students on Mission in Chicago.”

But when I reflect on which stories have had the most impact on me personally – which testimonies and experiences have managed to stand out above all the rest – hands down they revolve around the selflessness and joy I’ve had the privilege to witness during ChicaGO Week.

As you can read about more in the upcoming August 22 edition of the Illinois Baptist, ChicaGO Week offers youth a unique opportunity to travel to this huge mission field and partner with local church planters whose goal is to reach the 9 million Chicagoland residents with the gospel, a large majority of whom don’t have a relationship with Jesus.

And trust me when I tell you that these students don’t take this partnership lightly.

Chicago Week Bubbles

Sports Camp | Local kids came to Transformation Church each day during ChicaGO Week as IBSA youth partnered with them to put on a sports camp — complete with bubbles and chalk drawing galore.

Last summer I watched as kids braved the summer heat and accomplished more yard work in a few hours than that church planter and his family could have gotten done all week. I thanked God for a young group of girls as they bravely talked to strangers and told others about Christ in this huge city they’d never even been to before. And this summer I couldn’t help but be filled with joy as 30+ students poured their time and energy into simply playing games with kids in the local community – eating ice cream together and showing them the love of Jesus.

Letting them know that they matter.

And the planters. The students during ChicaGO Week only get a brief glimpse into the daily lives of these church planters – seeing just a peek into the challenging, sometimes grueling and heartbreaking, yet oh so rewarding world of starting a new congregation. But getting to speak to these men and their families gives youth the opportunity to see the need for the gospel in our state, and it has given me such a greater appreciation for where my MIO dollar is going.

So I encourage you to give to the Mission Illinois Offering, and give generously. Because I’ve seen firsthand the life change and the souls that are won for the Lord when these planters have the resources they need to fulfill the mission that has been placed on their hearts.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer.

– Morgan Jackson is an editorial contributor for IBSA and freelance writer living in Bloomington, IL.

Save

The BriefingNY Times asks: What does it mean to be evangelical?
Donald Trump’s popularity with evangelicals has led some church leaders to break with the term. The New York Times Opinion Page asked four evangelical writers to share what it mean to be an evangelical today.

Gary Smalley passes away
Best-selling author and world-renowned marriage and relationship expert Gary Smalley has died at age 75. Smalley passed away March 6 after a lengthy illness, his family announced on Facebook March 7.

Christianity Today apologizes for ‘son-in-law’ job posting
The flagship evangelical magazine Christianity Today has tweeted an apology after publishing a job listing for a son-in-law that raised some eyebrows on social media. The ad, which ran in the March edition, was bought by an unnamed Chicagoland church elder who is based in Wheaton, Ill., the magazine’s longtime home.

Millennials increasingly view the church negatively
Since 2010, millennials’ view of churches and other religious organizations as having a positive effect on the country has fallen 18 percentage points, according to Pew Research. In 2015, 55% of young adults believed churches have a positive impact on the country compared with 73% five years ago.

Florist who refused gay wedding gets appeal
The highest court in Washington state has agreed to hear the appeal of florist Barronelle Stutzman found guilty of violating state laws and the constitutional rights of a gay couple when she refused to arrange flowers for their wedding, citing religious beliefs.

Bible translators split over Trinity description
Wycliffe Associates (WA) is leaving Wycliffe Global Alliance (WGA), a partnership of more than 100 Bible translation agencies around the globe. WA cited several reasons for its decision, starting with controversy over the language used to describe Jesus. In some Bible translations, the language of Jesus’ relationship to God the Father (e.g. “Son of God”) is softened to stem confusion and anger from Muslims.

Sources: BPnews.net, Christianity Today, Facts and Trends, Focus on the Family, Religion News Service, New York Times

The New Seekers

Lisa Sergent —  December 21, 2015

Today’s magi are young and worldly wise, but naïve about Christ

Worldly wise, spiritually curious

Worldly wise, spiritually curious | The magi in this nativity hail from Uganda. http://www.worldcrafts.org

By Mark Coppenger | While a 60-year-old church planter in a university town just north of Chicago, I had at least one big personal question: Why would college students come to a basement rental space to hear a balding, overweight preacher who was often the only one in the service wearing a tie? At least I knew it wasn’t my effort to “dress for success,” which used to mean gray slacks, a blue blazer, rep tie, and such, but had come to mean work jeans and an untucked shirt. The best I could tell, sartorial and tonsorial factors were not much in play.

And lest you have the impression that I was some sort of maven at reaching Millennials, I should hasten to say that a lot of them stayed away, and a lot of them who gave us a look never came back. As the old joke goes, “We had three decisions on Sunday. One was for God, and two were against.” I think that goes with the territory when you preach “the whole counsel of God” in an age when feelings, relativism, and political correctness rule.

In our 11 years in Evanston reaching out to the Northwestern University campus, our church plant grew about five per year in average attendance, ending with about 55 a week. Of course, college communities are very fluid, and we’d regularly have our heart broken by graduations, where we’d lose a chunk of our treasure. But we labored on in joy and with some fruitfulness, and today we take great satisfaction as seeing our former parishioners on the mission field in Germany, India, and China; as Christian faculty at such universities as Maryland and North Carolina; in corporate positions from New York to San Francisco; in military service bands, medicine, the urban classroom, magazine staffs, NASA consultancies, symphony orchestras, etc.

Many of these folks were already walking with the Lord, and we simply had the privilege of walking with them on a segment of their journey. But some were also coming in from the pagan pool. Some were old guys—one was an aging veteran of Iwo Jima who was concerned with “studying for finals”; another was a middle-aged Baha’i, who wanted a chance to bone up on one of the many faiths they somehow embraced.

All this being said, here are some things that come to mind about our linkup with Millennials, many of whom were not believers when we met them.

They’re seeking a way out

First, let me say that in the talk about “seekers” and “seeker-friendly churches,” we see something of a duel between those who point to Romans 3:11 (“there is no one who seeks God”) and Jeremiah 29:13 (“You will seek me and you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart”).

The former say that the lost have little or no appetite for the true God, at least until he intervenes in their hearts. The latter emphasize the human will and point to cases, whether biblical (John 12:21), historical, or contemporary, in which people did, indeed, come looking for the Lord.

Of course, this leaves open the question of why they were looking. (For what it’s worth, I’m persuaded that the overarching answer is that God puts it in their hearts to seek him, and they’re not really seeking him until he does this.)

I think it’s fair to say that most of our seekers were looking more for a door out of their current spiritual situation than for one into the Kingdom of Christ. They’d made a mess of their lives or come up empty in one way or another. They were unlucky in love, academics, employment; depleted and damaged by addictions, sexual sin; exhausted by the grind, betrayed by friends, marginalized by the culture and such, and they were willing to try something new. So they weren’t so much homing missiles intent on pursuing the righteousness of God, as they were anxious travelers thrashing about in the woods, spotting a cabin light in the distance and walking toward it.

Some were happy to join in the life of the cabin, glad to receive the mercies and life of the one who had invited those who were “weary and heavy laden” to come to him for rest. But others soon got cabin fever and sought the exit.

They loved the warmth and camaraderie and words of grace and love, but they couldn’t abide the language of Zion or imposition of the biblical prerogatives, and so, after warming their hands at the hearth, they plunged back into the darkness. There were, for instance, those who couldn’t or wouldn’t give up their intimate co-habitation without benefit of marriage. If they had been looking for the true God, they would have stayed, but they were only interested in trying out a new drug.

I was struck by the testimony of one of our Chinese students that her father had urged her to check out Christianity since it seemed connected with human and economic wellbeing. He wanted her to get a fix on what those Christian birds were up to that made them fly so high.

For those who had a heart to stay, we made a way for them to grow “in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.” For the others—the rich young rulers, if you will—they’d had a look at what discipleship meant, like it or not.

Despite what the critics say, the church still has a lot of cachet, and we should expect people to give us a look if only to figure out, “What is it with those guys?”

Spiritual nomads need roots

Fewer and fewer young adults come from gratifying homes, and those that do so miss what they had when they move away. Either they don’t much know what a family is supposed to look like, or they long for a substitute. And that’s where the church can come in big time.

In Evanston, Sharon and I were empty nesters for most of our years as a church-planting couple, so we had a lot of freedom to connect in fatherly/motherly (or grandfatherly/grandmotherly) ways. We’d go to their plays, recitals, sporting events, and such, taking photos, making over them at receptions, and basking in the moments of their achievement.

I remember one night at a club in Rogers Park, we went to hear a group called the Blind Anabaptist Blues Band, formed by one of our Northwestern students. They performed in all sorts of venues, high and low, in the Chicago area. They offered a mix of secular and sacred music, the lead singer with something of a Bob Dylan/Tom Waits sound. That night they led with several of their “worldly” numbers (e.g., “Girl With Gin on Her Lips”), but then, 20 minutes or so into the set, they gave a straightforward rendition of an old hymn.

You might think this would come off like fingernails on the blackboard, for overnight hookups were shaping up at the bar, pitchers of beer sloshed everywhere, and a lesbian couple had taken to the dance floor in front of the band. But a sweet reverence came over the room, with strangers mouthing some of the words, and with, perhaps, a tear or two at this or that table.

Perhaps they remembered the days when their mommy took them to Sunday school, they sang in the youth choir, or they sat on the back row of some church, barely attentive to what was going on, but with their young impressionable minds absorbing those gospel strains. So we need to be careful about throwing old stuff under the bus, for it may well be a linkage point.

What they know, what they don’t

I may have this all wrong, but I don’t think the current young adults read or learn as much background material as we Boomers did. I’ve seen several studies showing that, in high school and college, they’re writing fewer and fewer term papers.

They’re juiced with music in their ear buds, tweeted to insensibility, selfie’d into the third celestial ring of narcissism, and often remindful of the French, who after their 18th-century revolution, started the calendar all over again, declaring themselves the founders of a new age, no longer beholden to the BC/AD business.

So while you may stumble on syncing your iPhone or some other item of technological arcana, you know who Lottie Moon was, how William Carey fought widow burning in India, what turned Wales upside down in 1904, how ‘Messiah’ and ‘Christ’ connect with oil, the connection between Nineveh and Mosul, and what difference Mordecai Ham and William Randolph Hearst made to Billy Graham.

Today’s seekers don’t. Of all the people in that list, they may not even know Billy Graham. They may know a lot of stuff, but they’ve missed a lot of important stuff their filters have kept them from learning.

These are folks who’ve been brainwashed in the paralyzing ideology of political correctness and overweening sensitivity, ever alert to the “gotcha,” by which they’ll lose their social standing, if not more.

They know that “Islam is a religion of peace,” that “gay is okay,” and any number of other secular pieties. They learn that the greatest sin is perceived intolerance (a foolish conviction exposed in Allen Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind”), and they’ve likely joined in the witch burnings of those designated “phobic” in one way or another.

But there you are, speaking the plain language of the Bible, whether the exclusivity of Christ, the reality of sin and hell, male headship in the home, and the sanctity of marriage and unborn human life. “You can’t say that!” they say.

“Oh, really,” I respond. “Well, here it goes again.”

Sure, some will stomp out grumbling, but others will be intrigued by the spectacle and stick around to see what the fundie mine sweeper will set off next as he covers his ears and goes lumbering through the fields of biblical teaching.

Some veteran missionaries in our church introduced “storying” for internationals, working off graphic wall hangings replete with Bible scenes, from Genesis to maps. The non-Christian Asian students were particularly receptive. (And, in this connection, I’ve really enjoyed my work at biblemesh.com—“One God. One Book. One Story.”)

I think stories in the form of illustration can also take sermons to a higher level. Some call them “raisins in the oatmeal.” Whatever. I know Jesus used them a lot, in the form of parables. And I know they connect powerfully—and legitimately, if they serve the task of true exposition.

Culture also offers opportunities to connect with Millennials. They’ve been taught to stereotype “fundamentalists” or “chauvinists” or whatever class of vermin is au courant, and they may be queuing up for their own Mizzou protest or Wall Street grump-in according to the demands of the professionally offended. After all, thanks to the modern university, Millennials are hothouse plants, oblivious to thinkers who don’t fit the school’s suffocating ideological template.

So when you suggest that you prefer Booker T. Washington to W.E.B. Dubois, Edmund Burke to Howard Zinn, or Norman Rockwell’s “Saying Grace” to Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster Cycle,” they have a tough time processing your comments.

You might tell them you prefer poems that rhyme to those that don’t, maybe like the work of Robert Frost and Robert Service. That’ll drive ‘em nuts. But do it with a mischievous smile, letting them know that you don’t wish them harm, and that we’re happily a part of a Divine Comedy, not a Divine Tragedy.

My tactic: unruffledness

With the breakup of the family and society’s precipitous descent into the abyss of relativism, hedonism, narcissism, and even nihilism, we are confronted with all sorts of waywardness and frowardness, and we do well to handle these with unruffledness. Today’s seekers will show up with alarming tattoos, mad theories, “father wounds,” and promiscuities, and we should not think it a virtue to swoon in the face of affronts to holiness.

Don’t blink.

Let them tell their story and even put on their displays of lawlessness. Then pick up as you can. That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t cover his ears and go “La-La-La-La” when he heard or saw something unpleasant. Unlike Jesus, we realize that we’re all a mess without his touch, and that none of us could endure a moment-by-moment projection of our lives in Times Square.

Don’t flinch from speaking a biblical word to sin, but don’t flinch from ministering to the sinner.

I’ve heard that, and have come to believe that, God honors our efforts even when they seem futile. We knocked on miles and miles of doors in Evanston, held a range of special events in city parks, and did a mass mailing to the city’s residents. In the end, very few came to church as a result. Or I should say, very few of those we contacted came to church. But a lot of others did, from sectors we’d not anticipated.

One congregant was a dear fellow who told the same stories over and over again over lunch, forgetting that he was repeating and repeating himself; another was a new convert from Islam; another was a theater student, working in constant tension with the values of the secular stage and the claims of Christ; yet another was a Messianic Jew who, as a policeman in uniform, dropped in on our services from time to time; another a pastor’s kid from Arkansas.

Call it an application of the “law of sowing and reaping”—that God keeps account of our witness efforts and rewards us with fruit from fields we’d not cultivated. We’d not sought them, but by his grace they sought out us.

Mark Coppenger is professor of Christian apologetics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is former president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a church planter and pastor in Evanston, Illinois.

“I never really did much with religion,” said Austin Owen. “I went to church and never understood anything about it.” But things changed for Owen at IBSA’s Youth Encounter conference on October 11. The 17-year-old was one of many students who made decisions to follow Christ or deepen their commitment to him.

He had never read the Bible before, Owen admitted. “But today I guess is a good day to start.”

Student ministry leaders say Millennials are looking for the kind of faith that transcends family history or tradition and leads to real life change.

Usually held right after Christmas in Springfield, organizers changed the format to one day in three locations. “We were hoping to make it more accessible to more of our churches,” said Barb Troeger, ministry coordinator on IBSA’s Church Resources team, and that more unchurched kids would attend as a result.

The north site in suburban Chicago, the central site in Decatur, and the southern site in Mt. Vernon saw a combined attendance of 1,519, up from 961 people in 2014. The southern site sold out a week before the event­­—in part due to well-known evangelist David Nasser being the scheduled speaker.

The northern site featured Christian hip-hop artists FLAME and V.Rose. And the central location hosted bands Seventh Time Down, The Neverclaim, and Manic Drive, as well as Passion Painter Ministries artist Andy Raines. Sierra Jones said, “I just really like how the art dude is making all the paintings as people talk. It’s really cool!”

Leaders at each venue tailored the events to their audiences, but the focus was the same in each place: helping students develop an intimate belief in Christ, so that they might know they’ve been chosen and that the creator of the universe loves them.

“That type of belief changes your heart and life,” said evangelist Clayton King, lead speaker in Decatur at Tabernacle Baptist Church.

Many salvation decisions were made across the state—107 alone in Decatur. In Mt. Vernon, Owen responded with a firm, “Yes, I did,” when asked if he made a commitment to Jesus that night.

No more ‘playing church’

Changing the structure of Youth Encounter was admittedly a risk. But “ultimately, we hope people are led to the Lord,” said Daymont VanPelt, coordinator of the northern location at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills. That’s the main goal—students accepting Christ and taking a different direction in life.

Which is perhaps one of the toughest issues to address, said John Howard, student pastor at First Baptist Church in O’Fallon and IBSA’s student ministry consultant. How do we reach youth? How do we effectively present the gospel to teenagers?

“The most significant spiritual hunger I’m seeing among students is for an authentic faith experience,” Howard said. “That is, many have quit riding the coattails of their parents’ religious experience and are seeking an authentic faith of their own.”

In Decatur, Clayton King summed up the main message leaders at all three locations were trying to communicate. He didn’t pose the question, “Do you believe in God?” but rather, “How do you believe in God?”

In youth ministry, leaders know it is crucial that students not have an inherited belief—putting their faith in something simply because their family does. Their relationship with God also cannot be intellectual, having biblical knowledge in their head that never touches their heart.

One student who attended the south location said it stood out to him when Nasser talked about “just playing church.” Admitting to struggling with that himself at times, John Wittenborn, prior to the final session, said that if he made a decision for Christ he wanted to make sure it was a real one.

In the trenches

The post-Christian culture we live in often fuels teens’ spiritual crises. Even students who have grown up in the church are susceptible to society-prompted doubt.

“Leaders should walk through the trenches of these uncertain times with students, both counseling toward and modeling an authentic faith walk,” Howard said.

An especially timely example is the debate on homosexuality. Howard said one student in his youth group, a leader for others, has begun to question whether Christians have it right regarding their stance on the issue. His question then snowballed and soon he was perplexed about everything he once believed in, “to the point of questioning the existence of Jesus,” Howard said.

This spiritual crisis is not yet over for this student, he added, and although there are still many questions to wade through, “there have been strides made in the right direction.”

“Events like IBSA’s Youth Encounter seek to gather students from across our state in the name of Jesus Christ,” Howard said. “Despite our many differences, one thing many different people from [all] different places can converge on is our great God…Students engage in a relaxed atmosphere where they will hear great music, be led in genuine worship, and hear the true and relevant gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed, explained, and applied.

“Much time, effort, resources, and prayer are poured into creating an avenue through which God can save souls, rebuild hearts, mature disciples, and call servants to serve him with their lives.”

And what about the temporary “spiritual high” that often results from big events? Howard said all the time, but especially after an event like Youth Encounter, be intentional about setting aside time to invest in “doing life” alongside students. Large scale, evangelistic endeavors can be the tool through which the Holy Spirit works, but remember that ultimately, “Only God can save a life and transform a heart.”

Morgan Jackson is an intern for the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Chicago, IllinoisCOMMENTARY | While many college students were using summer break to relax and catch up on some much-needed sleep, one group of undergrads dedicated their downtime to proclaiming the name of Jesus throughout the city of Chicago, one of our country’s biggest mission fields.

The North American Mission Board started a program a few years ago called Generation Send. They identified 32 cities in great need of laborers and then sent students out to work in them. This past summer almost 400 youth showed 16 of these cities the love of Christ as they learned what it meant to live a life on mission in an urban context.

Students from Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee were excited to come and serve in the unique and diverse community of Chicago. They arrived at the beginning of the summer with few expectations for the coming months but to see Christ glorified.

Chicago contains 77 neighborhoods filled with people from across the world. It is the third largest city in the U.S., but less than 10 percent of the population is involved with an evangelical church. They are in desperate need of the gospel and for people to come and serve in the name of Christ.

Two of the student leaders through Generation Send, known as mobilizers, were returning to Chicago for the second summer in a row. They had become extremely burdened for the city and wanted to continue sharing that passion with others. Looking beyond all the glitz and the glamour, Chicago is still a place where people have real needs and individuals are desperately lacking gospel truth. Realizing this firsthand has a way of leaving an imprint on one’s heart.

Four mobilizers led teams of 3-10 people in four of the 77 Chicago neighborhoods. Students engaged business owners, college students, young professionals, different ethnic groups, families, and many others for the gospel.

Every week a Generation Send student would encounter someone who needed to hear God’s truth. And many times they were receptive to it. Less than halfway through the summer, students couldn’t bear the thought of going home and leaving these people behind.

In July when it was time to say goodbye, one team had the privilege of leaving Bibles with a Muslim family who owned a restaurant that they visited several times a week. Another team came alongside a church planter and his family and helped them prepare for their first Sunday preview service. In a matter of only six weeks, these students from Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee were completely broken for this place that desperately needs Jesus.

One mobilizer has now made the commitment to move to Chicago. In September she will move from her quiet, small town in Louisiana to the chaos of the Windy City, all to further the gospel. Another student is also praying about becoming a church planter there in the coming years. Many others have already committed to bringing teams back next summer and will continue to pray for Chicago throughout the year.

All throughout scripture we see God’s people burdened for cities that were in need of Him. In the book of Nehemiah we encounter a man who asked his King to return to Jerusalem, a city he once called home. He was so burdened for the people of Israel and for the city of Jerusalem that he wanted to make new again what was destroyed. The task was not easy and the burden was not light, but he was determined to obey and honor what God had called him to do.

This theme of being burdened for God’s cities continues today. God is calling his people back into the cities so that the gospel may go forth. Cities are considered the heart of our country and we need the people who live in them to have repentant hearts and put their faith in Jesus Christ. Please pray for Chicago and for students preparing to join the mission field there.

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” Luke 10:2 (ESV).

Carrie Campbell is a teacher in Beardstown. She has served as coordinator for NAMB’s Generation Send summer missions program in Chicago for two years.

Is preaching passe?

Meredith Flynn —  August 6, 2015

COMMENTARY | Nathan Carter

Nathan_Carter_August4In his little book, “The Priority of Preaching,” Christopher Ash writes what every pastor has thought at some point.

“Is it really helping when we spend so much of our week laboring at the Word of God, preparing to preach it to the churches we serve…Is it worth slogging away preparing Sunday’s sermon with such a world of need outside?”

Maybe you are a pastor and you have doubted whether your preaching is really doing anything. Maybe you are a church member who sometimes falls asleep during sermons and you wonder if there is a better way of connecting with today’s postmodern culture. Is preaching a thing of the past?

We are far from the Puritan days when one minister apologized to his congregation for preaching a two-hour sermon and they all replied, “For God’s sake sir go on, go on!” During the era of the Baby Boomers, preaching in many churches became a casual talk on how biblical principles can address felt needs, bolstered by the use of multimedia technology.

Many Gen Xers and Millennials are now looking for new expressions of church, and the very idea of preaching is being re-imagined. Wouldn’t it be more authentic to have a dialogue about the Bible where everyone could share his or her own experiences and insights?

I define preaching as one-directional, verbal proclamation of God’s Word culminating in the gospel. And I still maintain that this is an absolutely essential practice for the church. Why? For one, we see it happening all over the Bible (i.e. Acts 10:33-44). That’s descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive, you might say. Well, it is also expressly commanded elsewhere (i.e. 2 Tim. 4:2).

But couldn’t the intent behind “preach the word” be fulfilled in other ways than one person talking at other people for an extended time? I certainly believe there are several different legitimate styles of preaching. But the method of preaching is critical.

We need times when we bite our tongues as we are confronted by the authority of God’s Word. In an age of relativism and rebellion against authority, it makes sense why we don’t want to sit under preaching. We don’t want doctors; we’d rather self-diagnose. The idea of a wiki-sermon that we all have a hand in constructing is much more appealing. But our great need is to hear, “Thus saith the Lord,” and let his external word rebuke us, call us to repent, make us ready to receive the message of the gospel, and then respond in faith and obedience.

Hearing a declaration of something that has happened, something to which you can’t contribute a thing but must respond to with either belief or disbelief, best comports with the gospel. Since there is a constant need to have the double-edged sword of God’s Word pierce our souls to expose our sinful hearts and then graciously present Christ to us in all his resplendent glory so that we can trust in him as our righteousness and healer, preaching will always be indispensable.

There is a place for small group discussions and seminars and life-on-life mentoring. But preaching is an essential element of the life and health of a church. The practice of preaching can be abused (when it becomes a chance to express one’s own ideas instead of expound a text), but that shouldn’t cause us to avoid its proper use. Some preachers are more gifted than others, but the mark of a mature believer is to be easily edified as long as the Word of God is being preached.

Charles Spurgeon said, “I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Churches.”

May he do it again today!

Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.