Archives For ministry

Kick-off includes new blog, podcast tailored to Baptist women
Connection is the main goal of the newly launched Southern Baptist Women’s Leadership Network (WLN). “Historically in SBC life men have had multiple options to connect in this way,” said WLN steering committee member Kathy Ferguson Litton. “Women have had very few environments where we could organically relate, mentor, and collaborate across all the domains in which we lead. It is time to change that.”

The network includes a podcast, blog, and Facebook page, and will hold its first meeting June 11 during the Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham.

Congress yet to act on church tax law
A coalition of religious leaders is still pursuing action by U.S. lawmakers they say will relieve churches of a costly tax burden. Current law requires churches to file tax returns, some as early as this spring. The U.S. House of Representatives voted late last year to reverse the provision—Section 512(a)(7) of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017—but the Senate didn’t have the votes to approve the reversal, Baptist Press reported.

“Uncle Sam is welcome in our churches,” said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, one of the leaders calling for repeal of the provision. “But we don’t work for him. And Congress should end this deeply un-American tax on churches immediately.”

Baptists choose ‘proven leader’ to helm Executive Committee
Arkansas pastor and former Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd was elected April 2 to lead the denomination’s Executive Committee, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn. Floyd, 63, will be a key part of the SBC’s response to current challenges, including helping churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors of abuse.

Mormon Church softens stance on same-sex marriage
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced April 4 that members in same-sex marriages will no longer be designated apostates to their faith. “While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline,” the church said. “Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.”

The change in policy also will allow children of LGBT members to be baptized in the church, Religion News Service reported.

Iraqi Christians could face deportation
An appeals court declined April 2 to hear further arguments from 1,400 Iraqi natives detained in immigration raids in 2017. The group includes more than 100 Detroit-area Chaldean Christians, Christianity Today reports, who would face returning to one of the world’s most dangerous countries for Christians.

Sources: Baptist Press (2), Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, Christianity Today

 

 

 

Pro-life organizations urge advocates to visit lawmakers this week
As Illinois lawmakers consider abortion legislation one lobbyist called “more extreme than New York’s,” pro-life advocates will be in Springfield Wednesday, March 20, for a “Lobby Day” and rally outside the Capitol.

Court finds in favor of ministers’ housing allowance
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously reversed an earlier lower court ruling that found the ministers’ housing allowance unconstitutional. The tax exemption permits “ministers of the gospel” to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. The Seventh Circuit’s decision rejected claims by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the tax law grants a government benefit to a religious group.

Seminary answers Facebook’s questions
Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention responded to inquiries from Facebook about a post the school tried to boost on the social media site (Facebook refused). The post included this quote from President Jeff Iorg: “Holding the line on positions based on timeless biblical standards as an ultimate authority has been and always will be important.” Facebook asked questions about the seminary and Iorg, the president wrote later, “to establish we are a valid company, not a hate group or a foreign entity.”

Texas bill would protect churches that report sexual abuse
Southern Baptist pastors have proposed legislation in Texas that would allow churches to disclose allegations of sexual abuse without fear of civil liability. “I don’t think that it solves all of the problems related to abuse and sexual misconduct,” said Pastor Ben Wright, who helped initiate the bill. “But it does help churches and organizations know that if they pass on information that they believe to be true, that they have good reason to believe is true, it helps them know that they will be shielded from potential lawsuits.”

Most churches report little growth, few conversions
A new study by LifeWay Research found 6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance and more than half saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians in the past 12 months.

-Illinois Baptist media, FactsandTrends.net, Baptist Press (2), LifeWay Research

 

 

 

 

 

 

By IBSA Staff

Illinois Baptist churches celebrated 3,676 baptisms in 2018, an increase of 6.8% over the previous year. The increase is one highlight of the Annual Church Profile (ACP) reports completed by 97% of IBSA churches, a new record high.

Other indicators measured by the ACP reports are leading IBSA staff to focus increasingly on church revitalization and next generation ministry strategies, alongside the priorities of evangelism and leadership development, said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams.

“We are clearly in a time and a culture, especially here in Illinois, where just having church services is not enough to sustain a church’s health, much less reach the lost,” Adams said. “Churches that survive and thrive in these days are intentionally looking for ways to reengage their neighborhoods, and to provide relevant ministries that can lead to gospel conversations, and invitations into a loving, local community of believers.”

Church plant statsIn 2018, IBSA churches engaged a statewide strategy focused on evangelism and baptism. One GRAND Sunday resulted in hundreds of reported baptisms during the Easter season. (Churches are invited to participate in One GRAND Month later this spring) One of the four Pioneering Spirit challenges, issued in 2017 and adopted by churches last year, also called for a new commitment to evangelism.

“We were encouraged to see baptisms increase by almost 7% in 2018, after four years of gradual decline,” Adams said. “I sense a renewed passion for evangelism among many churches, as evidenced by the 223 churches that committed to “Engage New People” as part of the Pioneering Spirit challenge, and by the 671 baptisms reported during last Easter season’s One GRAND Sunday.”

Missions giving was another area of growth in 2018. IBSA churches gave $5,991,634 through the Cooperative Program (CP), the Southern Baptist Convention’s main channel for financial support of missions and ministry. However, the Mission Illinois Offering, collected annually to support missionaries and ministries in the state, fell by 4.1% to $349,507.

Adams pointed out that while CP giving increased by 1%, 2018 missions giving was still about 10% below its peak levels back in 2009. With that increase, per capita missions giving in churches is actually higher, even though other key indicators, including worship attendance and Bible study participation, were lower last year.

“There simply aren’t as many attenders or givers in church as there were 10 years ago,” Adams said. “Many churches are now finding a need to focus on intentional revitalization strategies, and our IBSA staff is eager to help with those efforts.”

IBSA hosted more than 200 ministry leaders at the Illinois Leadership Summit Jan. 22-23, featuring teaching from experienced church revitalization veteran Mark Clifton. A second summit will be held March 15-16 in Chicagoland, with large-group sessions led by former Chicagoland pastor Jonathan Hayashi and J.J. Washington, a pastor and church revitalizer in Atlanta.

“Holding the Illinois Leadership Summit in Chicagoland allows us to design our conference to match the context of our churches,” said Mark Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Resources Team. “Our guest speakers are two men who have had success developing leaders and growing churches in an urban context like Chicago.”

The Chicagoland meeting is at Brainard Avenue Baptist Church in Countryside and will also include breakout sessions designed to help leaders reach the next level of leadership potential. For more information or to register, go to IBSA.org/Summit.

 

Dutch Christians face opposition over statement on biblical sexuality
Christian leaders in the Netherlands are facing backlash over a statement affirming biblical sexuality, Baptist Press reported late last week. The Nashville Statement, released in 2017 by U.S. evangelicals including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in part affirms “that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

In the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage was legalized in 2001, signers of the statement have been threatened with criminal prosecution, BP reported.

Harvest Church to drop lawsuit
Harvest Bible Chapel announced plans to drop a lawsuit against a reporter and a group of bloggers who released reports of mismanagement and poor leadership at the Chicagoland megachurch. Harvest and Pastor James MacDonald claimed defamation when they sued reporter Julie Roys and the team behind “The Elephant’s Debt” last October. Earlier this month, a judge denied the church’s attempt to keep subpoenaed documents private, Christianity Today reported.

MacDonald was scheduled to preach at the 2019 SBC Pastors’ Conference this June, but withdrew in December.

Dockery to lead Missouri university’s theology evaluation
A Southern Baptist university in Missouri will undergo an evaluation to ensure its “theological integrity is intact,” The Christian Post reported Jan. 11. Students at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar have protested the dismissal of Professor Clint Bass, who was fired after expressing concern over some faculty members’ theological views. SBU told The Christian Post it had intended to have conversations on theology in fall of 2019, but Bass’s dismissal and the public fallout moved up the timeline.

The theology review at the university, which is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, will be led by David Dockery, president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.

Hurricane relief continues in new year
Disaster Relief efforts in Florida and North Carolina are ongoing, Baptist Press reported Jan. 8, in response to 2018’s Hurricanes Michael and Florence. Teams are continuing to serve in affected areas, and plans are underway for college students to join the response during spring break. More information is available at SendRelief.org/GenSend.

Barna releases new insights on pastors and their work
Almost three-fourths of pastors feel content with their role, Barna reports, but more than half had another career before going into ministry. And a quarter another job in addition to their work as a pastor.

By Andrew Woodrow

Churches combine efforts to meet needs, share Jesus in their community

Food Pantry serving

Harrisburg is a tough place right now,” said Joe Thompson, an associate pastor at the southern Illinois town’s First Baptist Church. “We’re dealing with a lot of unemployment, food insecurity for children, and there’s just a lot of under-resourced people around us. And the churches are aware of that.”

Thompson’s rural community lies in one of the state’s poorest counties. There are limited resources and manpower to meet basic needs.

But that didn’t stop Thompson and his wife, Stacey, from trying.

In January 2017, the Thompsons launched a weekly community dinner at FBC Harrisburg. Since then, the couple has been overwhelmed by how quickly God has expanded the ministry, which they named His Table.

“When we asked God to show us if this is what he wanted us to do,” Joe said, “we had no idea he would answer so loudly.”

Meeting a major need

Joe and Stacey Thompson

Joe and Stacey Thompson

At 5 p.m. every Thursday, the doors open and diners of all ages start trickling into the fellowship hall at FBC Harrisburg. Young children find seats in the back corner. Older men and women, some who have brought babies along, sit at long tables. Volunteers bring them their food and, if time allows, stay to chat for a bit.

The His Table volunteers are a team of about 20 people, ranging in age from 14 to 92. They arrive mid-afternoon to prepare for the evening. One group makes sandwiches for the kids to last them until the end of the weekend, while another team packs meals to deliver to shut-ins who are unable to come to dinner.

When word initially spread about the dinner ministry, funds poured in from supporters and soon five other churches—Liberty, Saline, Dorrisville, Pankeyville, and McKinley Avenue—came alongside First Baptist to help. A restaurant and a local supermarket also committed to help with food provisions.

“One of our chief concerns about launching His Table was overestimating the need,” Thompson said. The worry was unfounded. At the first His Table dinner, the Thompsons served 10 meals. Now, they see around 250 diners every week, and serve 350 meals.

“I’ve been coming since I first heard of this event,” one diner said. “My wife’s not here but this meal helps sustain us both for at least another night.” The man left that night carrying two more boxes of food to take to his bedridden wife.

“This sort of thing isn’t uncommon,” Thompson said. “These people are having to make decisions, ‘Do I pay this bill or do I eat this week?’ So to sit with people who have said their last meal was Thursday night and they’ve been waiting for Thursday night to come around again is heartbreaking.”

Thompson believes this is why the churches in the community are so eager to help.

“When you think about poverty, you don’t really think about it in your own community,” said Donnie Hughes, a volunteer from Pankeyville Baptist Church. “But it wasn’t until we saw what Joe was doing firsthand that awoke us to how great the need in our community was. And seeing children come into His Table by themselves with no parents really impacted us to get involved.”

More than a meal
“It’s not enough for people to leave here thinking ‘Boy, the spaghetti was good tonight,’” Thompson said. “If that’s all on their mind, then we’ve failed.”

His Table is meant to reflect God’s unforsaken love and compassion for his people, even amid their hardships. “Life’s pretty tough right now for these folks, but for us to be able to communicate redemptive truths to them is prayerfully and hopefully the impact we’re making,” Thompson said.

“For churches to understand the overall need, come together, and very selflessly understand that together we can pool our resources and manpower to meet the needs of the community—that is how the Church is effective.”

In time, he said, the team would like to start recovery programs and help provide jobs for people in the community. If those dreams come to fruition, the His Table team would have to find additional locations and resources. But Thompson isn’t worried.

“Ultimately,” he said, “we just want to be the Church sharing the love of Christ to the community. Just as much as Jesus did to his.”

See His Table volunteers from Harrisburg churches serve their community: www.vimeo.com/ibsa/histable

By Mike Keppler

Mike KepplerI was pretty unruly the last weeks leading up to my retirement. In dealing with the loose ends and trying to find an acceptable closure to over 26 years of ministry, I was stressed and disagreeable at times. I was getting into trouble by saying some harsh things to family and friends and finding myself needing to ask for forgiveness. How often do we need to ask, “Please forgive me”?

Over the years, I have had to “walk back” several comments that were hurtful. Sometimes I tried unsuccessfully to make excuses about what I had meant, but when something mean comes out of the mouth, something mean must be in the heart. No amount of excuse-making will work toward healing in these situations. Rather, it’s time to admit wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. You would think that as time goes on, a maturing Christian should be growing past some of these careless words and actions, but it seems that the devil never gives up working to trip us up!

While patience may be one of the more important of virtues required in a long-term ministry, asking for and offering forgiveness is a close second and surely related. By the grace of God, I have been able to re-constitute my relationship with some fellow church members over the years. Misunderstandings, differences of opinion, and handling (or mishandling) expectations often disrupt our relationships, but patient forgiveness helps us to reform and experience even stronger bonds with those individuals who may have become adversarial toward us at times.

I had an “old salt” come out the auditorium doors one Sunday morning early in my ministry. I had been his pastor for a good three years by this time. As I reached out to shake his hand, he bluntly declared, “Preacher, I was against calling you when you came, but I’m for you now!” I thought later how that would qualify him as a “late adopter!”

You might think it’s ‘I love you,’ but it’s not.

I wasn’t really aware of the man’s resistance to my leadership, but evidently, he was not fully on-board with it either. I was able to forgive that blunt remark, even forget about it and move on with him in the following years of service together. Sometimes it is not so easy with others. I have been “dressed down” in auditorium confrontations, “roughed up” during church business meetings, and yes, there was also that unpleasant incident of “physical aggression” in my office long ago that left me asking myself what I had done to deserve such an angry reaction. These encounters take a lot of time, prayer, support from family and friends—and forgiveness—if there is to be healing.

When I read about Paul’s encounters, I think I had it easy. He suffered numerous angry reactions and many hardships throughout his ministry. He said to the Corinthian believers, “As servants of God, we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger…” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5). Paul never wanted to be a stumbling block or to have his service and witness for Christ discredited by inappropriate responses. Neither should we!

Paul warns the Ephesians, “Watch the way you talk!” (4:29,32). Speaking in a “kind and forgiving” way should define us. Our speech should not be from a rancid, angry disposition, but rather, one that always expresses thoughtful consideration and patient preference of others.

One way we do this is to show kindness. We must learn to let go of things and forgive. In the Model Prayer, Jesus gives us the motivation: “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matt. 6:11). We respond with forgiveness because we have been the recipients of God’s great forgiveness of our sins.

Have you discovered that an unforgiving spirit does more harm to us and our relationship with the Lord than it does to hurt others? My experience is that if we aren’t kind and don’t exercise forgiveness, we will be miserable in our spirit. God has taken me to the “woodshed” to discipline me more than a few times for grieving the Holy Spirit. I think it all comes down to this: It grieves God and breaks his heart when we have conflict in our relationships and use speech that does not build others up. The Holy Spirit is aggrieved by our harsh and unforgiving ways. When the Spirit isn’t happy, we’re not happy as a result.

Mike Keppler recently retired after 26 years as pastor of Springfield Southern Baptist Church.

By Meredith Flynn

Larry Rhodes

Larry Rhodes leads worship at during a IBSA chapel service.

In a season meant for gratitude, Jason Vinson didn’t feel much. It was Thanksgiving when years of discouragement over his church led the pastor to the point he now calls rock bottom.

“Lord, this is not what I signed up for,” he prayed back then. “Please get somebody else. Can I have a way out? Would you please do something different, because this is killing me.”

For several years, Vinson and his church had faced internal challenges as they struggled to find effective ways to minister in their community. It was a lonely time, he said, a period when he questioned what God was doing, or whether he was working at all.

Finally, in 2016, they decided they needed a new start. The church moved forward under a new name—Charis Baptist Fellowship—and with Vinson still serving as pastor. He looked for partners to help his church, and found one in Larry Rhodes, an IBSA zone consultant in the Metro East region.

“We set a date to have lunch together, and heard the story of their church—the challenges they’ve been through, and how they met those challenges through prayer and fasting and consultation within their body,” Rhodes said.

“I was so excited to hear about how God was bringing healing and new life to that fellowship.”

As a consultant in one of ten zones in Illinois, Rhodes connects resources and training with pastors, who in turn help their churches engage their communities with the gospel. In Vinson’s case, he first needed someone to listen.

The Mission Illinois Offering supports the ministry of zone consultants like Rhodes, who serves as a sounding board and resource for pastors and churches in Metro East St. Louis. Rhodes and his fellow consultants seek to serve on the front lines alongside churches that are seeking community transformation, through the power of the gospel.

“Just the fact that Larry really believed in us was incredible,” Vinson said. “He really believed that God had a good work here, that God wanted me to continue in the work here.”

Lamb Book

With help from IBSA ministry specialists, Pastor Jason Vinson (pictured above) and Charis Baptist Fellowship overcame challenges and are working to meet needs in their community of Collinsville.

The summer after their restart, Charis hosted two Bible clubs for children, using a kit provided by Rhodes through IBSA. They hosted the clubs in a local park and in a nearby trailer community with the help of visiting mission teams—partnerships Rhodes helped forge.

Charis has fostered the relationships built through the clubs in a new Sunday morning Bible study for children, and a bi-weekly family discipleship time where dads teach their children from God’s Word. Two years after God started something new in Belleville, he’s still on the move, Vinson said.

“There’s an excitement, a joy, and an expectation that God is at work in this place.”

Together in the trenches
MIO Logo 500pxRhodes makes it a point to meet with each pastor in his zone, which includes the Gateway and Metro East Baptist Associations. (Local associations are networks of Baptist churches that often cooperate for ministry efforts like mission trips.) At those meetings, he wants to hear the pastor’s story, and help connect him with resources that can help the church in its big-picture mission.

For Calvary East St. Louis, that mission is to engage young people who have moved away from the church. “Our church started primarily with the concept of getting youth involved, getting them to know Christ, and keeping them involved and active in the process,” said Pastor Bermayne Jackson.

Rhodes came alongside the young church with resources to fulfill their mission, including a Vacation Bible School (VBS) resource kit and an evangelism training resource called “3 Circles.” Calvary used both kits last summer, hosting VBS for kids and teaching “3 Circles” to their parents.

The value of their first VBS was to show the church they could do it, their pastor said, that even a small church can be very effective. “We can make an impact,” Jackson said. “We can change lives. And it doesn’t take a hundred, 200, or 300 people to do it.

“We’re a church that has 46 members on the books. Average attendance is 30 a Sunday. But we feel confident in the fact that we can go out and make changes in our community.”

“That’s why we’re here, is to serve them [churches], and resource them, and encourage them in ways that we can, to push back the lostness in our state, which is vast.”

Jackson is a bivocational pastor, spending his days working as a sales manager and his evenings and weekends at church. He’s surrounded by a great leadership team at Calvary, but acknowledges pastoring can be lonely. Friendship and encouragement from experienced leaders is a key factor in being able to stick with the mission.

“Personally, (I) get an increase energy by knowing that you have a support system there,” Jackson said of relationships he’s built with Rhodes, others from IBSA, and leaders from his local network of churches, Metro East Association. “Sometimes (Larry) is talking, and he doesn’t know how much encouragement he’s giving to me.”

Rhodes knows how difficult it is for pastors to find time to meet with him, especially when so many are working at other jobs during the week, and balancing work, family, and church responsibilities. On top of all that, they want to see their communities transformed by the gospel.

“That’s why we’re here, is to serve them, and resource them, and encourage them in ways that we can, to push back the lostness in our state, which is vast,” Rhodes said.

“It’s critically important that IBSA realize the people ‘out in the trenches,’ as I like to say, are crucial to evangelism and to discipleship in the state of Illinois. We’re fighting an uphill battle all the way, but we’re still fighting, and we should.”

Here to help
Andre Dobson has pastored churches for 44 years. Still, he said, he needs people like Larry Rhodes to come alongside him and help him be better.

“He went out of his way to stop by the church to introduce himself and inform us about things happening with IBSA,” Dobson said. Rhodes also offered friendship. “It was really out of that relationship, knowing that here was someone that I could trust…that I asked him to begin to get involved in helping us as a church be able to minister in the way that we needed to.”

“…we’re here to help them [churches]. And we’re here because of them.”

The long-time pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Alton is mindful of the DNA he’s building for the next generation of leaders at his church. He wants to establish strong, effective, meaningful practices in areas like worship, discipleship, and evangelism.

Armed with resources, zone consultants stand ready to help churches do more effective ministry in their communities. They also serve as a sounding board for leaders, like Dobson, who are deeply invested in seeing their congregations embrace the gospel and the call to share it. Because of their visibility and partnership with churches, they often serve as the faces of IBSA, Rhodes said.

“I don’t think this face ought to represent anything,” he said self-deprecatingly, “so I call it ‘boots on the ground.’ I think it’s a tremendous way to let our churches know that we’re here. That we’re here to help them. And we’re here because of them.”

Call to prayer
Please pray for IBSA’s zone consultants and the churches they serve. Pray for stronger churches across Illinois that can build up disciples and share Christ with lost people. Pray for the Mission Illinois Offering, that many more churches will support the annual collection for state missions, which helps fund the work of Larry Rhodes and IBSA’s other missionaries and ministry staff.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.