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Nate Adams IBSA exterior

Former editor Dennis Dawson used to write a column in the Illinois Baptist titled, “Is This a Great State or What?” During those days, I remember many IBSA staff members who would return from a far corner of the state and parody that column’s title by asking, “Is this a great BIG state, or what?”

Illinois is almost 400 miles long from its northern border to its southern tip, and more than 200 miles at its widest point from east to west. Believe me, I know. On a given Sunday, it’s possible for me to drive three and a half hours to a church in southern Illinois, or four or more to a church north of Chicago, even from our central location in Springfield. But when it comes to traveling our great state, I have two secret weapons, or perhaps I should call them secret blessings. I have a mom who lives in the Chicago suburbs, and a mother-in-law who lives in the heart of southern Illinois.

Though both have been widowed for several years, and both are well into their 80’s, these two dear moms still maintain their own homes and are very active in their churches. And they still put a pretty good meal on the table. So when my travel takes me in their direction, my wife or I often call in advance and ask, “Is the Bed & Breakfast available this weekend?”

A word of thanks to faithful mothers for good food and, even better, spiritual refreshment.

Of course, these are our moms, not innkeepers. I would never want to presume upon their hospitality, and I’m sensitive to the fact that I’m sometimes passing through their homes quickly, with little more time than for a bed and breakfast. Yet each time I have apologized for that, our moms have both assured me that they are always glad for whatever time we have together.

Over the years, I have learned that there is more to a bed than sleep, and
more to breakfast than eating. When you’re at Mom’s house, the smells are
familiar. The sounds are familiar. The pictures on the walls and the knickknacks on the shelves are familiar. It’s home.

When you sit around the kitchen table at Mom’s house, you relax and ease up a little. You help yourself from the fridge. You change a light bulb or two, so she won’t have to. You eat, but more than that, you fellowship.

In other words, the blessing that these two moms are to me and my often extensive travel goes far beyond the hours of sleep saved. It even goes beyond the dollar they save the IBSA budget, which I’m sure would be thousands and thousands over the past few years. They refresh me. They refresh my wife and allow us to travel together more. They give me home away from home.

So as Mother’s Day passes this year, and since they both read the Illinois Baptist faithfully, I want to use this brief space to say thank you to two faithful moms, Romelia Adams and Georgianna Schultz. Perhaps in doing so I am helping other pastors or church leaders say thank you to their moms too, for all the ways that they support our ministries, from nearby or afar.

I recall my dad once saying that when his mother passed, he physically felt the absence of her prayers. I don’t know how that works exactly, but I do know that there is something extremely valuable in the support of a mother. I see it in our two moms, and I see it in my wife, not just for me, but especially for our children, and their spiritual lives.

So I will keep cherishing the times when I can pick up the phone and ask, “Is the Bed & Breakfast available?” So far it has been every time.

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

Blue ribbonNate Adams’s Illinois Baptist column was awarded first place by the Evangelical Press Association.

The surrendered life

ib2newseditor —  April 17, 2017

Surrendered life

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. He pastored the Westminster Chapel in the heart of London for nearly three decades, and by the end of his ministry he was one of the most influential ministers on earth. But before Lloyd-Jones was a great preacher, he was an accomplished physician. After earning his medical degree, he came under the tutelage of Lord Horder, caregiver to His Majesty, King George V, and enjoyed one of the most promising medical careers in all of England.

In considering God’s call to ministry, Lloyd-Jones wrestled with his “physician’s dilemma”—giving up medicine to pursue preaching. Ultimately, it was a war of desire, and his desire for ministry won out:

“We spend most of our time rendering people fit to go back to their sin! I want to heal souls. If a man has a diseased body and his soul is all right, he is all right to the end; but a man with a healthy body and distressed soul is all right for sixty years or so and then he has to face eternity in Hell.”

From his book, “Discerning Your Call to Ministry,” Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason K. Allen offers insight on ministry, calling, and Christian education.

Are you willing to surrender?
A generation ago, “surrendering to ministry” was a common phrase in evangelical churches. It was certainly common in my childhood church. Most every sermon ended with an invitation to surrender to ministry. This immediately followed our pastor’s appeal to follow Christ, be baptized, or join the church.

Like Moses at the burning bush, you can persist in your excuses, or surrender to the call of God on your life.

As a boy, the phrase “surrender to ministry” both mystified and unnerved me. It sounded as though one was embracing an unwanted life, a call to a distant land for an undesired work. It seemed like a call one intuitively resisted—as long as possible—until finally buckling under the Spirit’s pressure and embarking on a life of ministry that, albeit noble, would be marked by sacrifice and hardship.

In hindsight, I do not think that is what my pastor meant, nor do I think that is what the New Testament implies. As I found in my own life, surrendering to ministry is not caving to an unwanted vocation; it is embracing what becomes increasingly irresistible: gospel ministry.

In other words, if by surrendering to ministry we mean engaging in an undesirable work, then jettison that phrase now. But if we mean surrendering to minister as unto the Lord and self-consciously choosing to forgo other life opportunities, conveniences, and ambitions, then surrendering to ministry is a good, healthy phrase. In fact, I am convinced “surrendering to ministry” is a phrase the church needs to recover and ministry-posture the church needs to cultivate. Every faithful ministry begins with a surrendered life, and that submissiveness shapes every aspect of one’s ministry, including why, where, and what one preaches.

What surrender entails
Surrendering to ministry rightly establishes the pastor’s motivation. After all, the pastor’s incentive should not be material gain, the applause of men, or any other earthly enticement. Rather, the preacher should, like the apostle Paul, know in his heart, “If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).

To surrender to preach the ministry is to be so gripped by God’s call, and so moved for His glory, that one shares Jeremiah’s burden: “If I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (Jer. 20:9).

The urgency with which one preaches may ebb and flow based on a multitude of factors, including the receptivity of the congregation, the preacher’s spirituality vitality, and the tenor of the text itself. But, for the man rightly surrendered to ministry, the “why” of the ministry is settled—it is for Christ and His glory.

Additionally, surrendering to ministry includes a determination to follow God’s call wherever it may lead. This may include a willingness to leave family and friends, go to a distant place, and undertake a new work. After all, Jesus reflected, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).

Too many ministers are perfectly willing to follow God’s call as long as it does not lead out of their hometown. Such kingdom restrictiveness is alien to the New Testament and stymies one’s availability to be used by God. Practically speaking, you can know if you are limiting God’s call if you’ve already placed—perhaps even unconsciously—limits on where you are willing to serve Christ.

A willingness to go wherever includes a willingness to minister to whomever. There are churches across the land poised for anything but numerical success. Challenging demographics, an unreceptive audience, or a dilapidated neighborhood might make God’s call unattractive, but if it is God’s call, it is a glorious one—regardless of the zip code. After all, struggling churches and dying communities need ministers, too. God typically calls more to a people than a place. If God calls you to minister to a church in a challenging area, are you willing to go?

Don’t settle for the path of least resistance or the best payout. Seek God’s will and surrender to it.

Surrendering to ministry also means operating under the authority of God’s Word. Most especially, this relates to the act of preaching itself. The role of the preacher is not to cobble together anecdotes with human insights and then sprinkle in a couple of Bible verses to produce a “homily.” The faithful preacher tunes his ear to the Spirit of God, not the critic’s grumble. His finger is on the text, not in the air, gauging the wind. His voice is given to preaching the Word, not peddling shallow sermons for shallow people.

Too many pastors are textual acrobats, contorting their preaching to avoid Scripture’s sharper edges. Such preachers have become adept at explaining away difficult texts and dodging confrontational verses. From the earliest days of ministry you’ll have to guard your heart from pleasing anyone other than the Lord. Fearing combative personalities, overreacting to legitimate criticism, or stubbornly desiring man’s approval can all compromise your message and disorient you from paramount loyalty: loyalty to the One who called you—God Himself.

Two stories of surrender
The Bible offers no better case study of surrendering to ministry than the Old Testament prophet Jonah. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, and preach repentance so the people there might be saved. It’s crystal clear that God was concerned about the why, where, and what of Jonah’s message.

Tragically, Jonah resisted God’s call in spectacular fashion. When God called Jonah, he was in Israel. God instructed him to go to Nineveh, which was about 550 miles east of Jerusalem in what is now modern-day Iraq, but Jonah did the exact opposite. He struck out for Tarshish, located in modern-day Spain, some 2,000 miles in the opposite direction!

Why did Jonah resist God’s call to preach repentance to the Ninevites? The Ninevites were the sworn enemies of the Israelites. The last thing Jonah wanted was to see the Ninevites repent and escape God’s impending judgement. In fact, Jonah actually confessed that he fled to Tarshish because he knew God was “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2).

God’s ministers are not spiritual free agents. We are not ecclesiastical entrepreneurs who strike out on our own and minister in accordance with our own desires. As Jonah’s sin was running from God’s appointed place of ministry, a more common twenty-first-century sin might be running to a preferred place of ministry.

On the contrary, aspire to be like John Piper, who went to Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1980 despite a small, aging congregation in dilapidated facilities located in a transitional neighborhood. He sensed God’s call, followed it, and has been used by God like few others in our generation.

A number of years ago I faced a similarly challenging decision. A church reached out to me about helping them through a season of challenge and transition. I felt God’s leading to serve the church, but several friends sought to dissuade me. I vividly recall one friend telling me, “Stay away. That church will ruin your resume. It’s a troubled congregation in a troubled part of town. Billy Graham couldn’t grow that church. You’ll have plenty of great opportunities in the years ahead. Don’t settle for anything less than God’s best for you.”

Though well intended, that counsel was altogether unhelpful and disorienting. For a while it confused me, until I remembered that God’s will for my life is God’s best for my life. By enlarging my circle of wise counselors, reflecting on the church’s needs, and my wife and I seeking the Lord and gaining His peace, it became clear that God was indeed calling us to that church.

The bottom line is, if you had a million lives to live you could not improve upon the life God has called you to live and the ministry to which He has called you. Don’t settle for second best by choosing the path of least resistance or the ministry that promises the best payout. Seek God’s will and surrender to it.

These days the phrase “surrendering to ministry” seems a vestige of the previous generation of church life. This is more than unfortunate; it is unhealthy, and the church is the big loser.

Surrendering to ministry means you’re willing to go to anyone, anywhere, anytime. But don’t be confused; as you surrender you will enter more fully into God’s joy and blessing. A surrendered life is integral to a healthy ministry.

– Reprinted by permission

silhouette of cross

I was completely blindsided after being called into a meeting at my church with another woman in leadership who had been upset with me for months. But sadly, I had no idea until she told me in our meeting that morning.

Months earlier, someone told her I didn’t agree with her leadership style. But that wasn’t what I’d said in a team meeting with several other leaders. Our women’s ministry director had asked my opinion about leadership training, and I shared my thoughts, but nothing I said was directed at her.

We both volunteered countless hours in ministry, pouring our hearts and lives into women in our church. All the while, we were on the same team, and I assumed we fully supported one another. But now the trust we had built for years was unraveling.

Driving home, my spirit felt crushed. It felt like I just didn’t have it in me to keep pouring out with the risk of being misrepresented and misunderstood again. I wasn’t strong enough or resilient enough. And I was exhausted from the hurt I felt and hurt I had caused.

By God’s grace, I chose to die to my fears and rise again in His courage by relying on Christ in me to navigate this very difficult relationship, leadership, and ministry situation.

That afternoon, I sat in my home office in tears. Laying my head down on my desk, I told God, I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.

After telling Him all the reasons why it was time for me to quit, a truth buried deep in my heart rose to the surface: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19b-20).

With my eyes closed, I pictured Jesus crucified. Arms stretched wide and willing. Willing to give His life no matter what it cost Him. Willing to be misunderstood, misrepresented, questioned, rejected, betrayed, and hurt beyond comprehension.

Tears streaming down my cheeks, I thought about Jesus on the cross. And I sensed Him asking me to die to my fears and let Him live His life and grace through me. My eyes still closed and dripping with emotion, I saw the scene of Golgotha with Jesus nailed in cruciform. But this time, there was a shadow of the cross behind Him, and I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me to lie down on the floor in the shadow of the cross.

I had never had this kind of encounter with God, but I sensed it was His way of showing me how to die to my fears. How to live crucified with Christ and find strength in His resurrection power, exchanging my brokenness for His humility and strength.

Lying in the shadow of the cross, I rested and waited for strength to get up again. Strength to stand at the crossroad and decide. Would I walk away from God’s calling on my life or allow Jesus to live His life through me? Would I protect myself from getting hurt again or live by faith in the One who died for me?

Being misunderstood and misrepresented makes it especially difficult to stay the course and pour ourselves out for Christ and others.

On our own we aren’t enough. Not strong enough, resilient enough, or humble enough. But Christ in us is more than enough.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to get us out of hell and into heaven. He died on the cross to get Himself out of heaven and into us! That is resurrection life — and the very place we get our enough. When we’ve been crucified with Christ, we no longer live, but Christ lives in us, and the life we live, we can choose to live by faith in the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.

By God’s grace, I chose to die to my fears and rise again in His courage by relying on Christ in me to navigate this very difficult relationship, leadership, and ministry situation. It was far from easy, but I can look back and say it was good because God was in it, and over time our friendship was restored.

Relationships are hard. Being misunderstood and misrepresented makes it especially difficult to stay the course and pour ourselves out for Christ and others. Jesus knew it would be because He faced the same temptation to walk away. Yet, He stayed the course and He stayed on the cross.

This Easter, let’s remember Jesus’ willingness to give up His life for us, knowing He would rise again and, therefore, we could, too. Let’s receive the resurrection power Christ offers as we open our hearts wide to Him and the life He wants to live through us. Let’s allow Him to be our enough, for indeed He is.

Renee Swope is the best-selling author of “A Confident Heart” and a contributing author of the (in)courage blog and “Craving Connection,” a new release from B&H Publishing. This article first appeared in HomeLife, a publication of LifeWay. Learn more at LifeWay.com/magazines.

ibdr-screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-12-16-34-pmThe storms that swept through the Midwest Feb. 28 developed into tornadoes when they went through southern and northern Illinois. Now, Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief (IBDR) volunteers are assisting victims with storm clean-up efforts.

Working in the southern Illinois town of Vergennes, volunteer Don Kragness told local television station WSIL, “We are here, basically, because we love Jesus and we want to serve Him and the best way we know how to serve Him is to help people when they’re in need.” Teams from Williamson and Saline Associations are serving the southern communities of Elkville and Vergennes. A shower unit from Franklin Association will also be deployed.

A team from Greater Wabash Association is at work in Carmi and Crossville, where one was killed, in the southeastern part of the state.

Dwayne Doyle, Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief Coordinator, said disaster relief assessors were on the ground in both parts of the state March 1. “The need is probably greater in the north in the Ottawa area, but assessment there is taking longer due to the damage.” Three died in the tornado that struck Ottawa. Doyle estimates chainsaw crews and chaplains could serve at locations around Ottawa and nearby Naplate doing cleaning up work for a week.

In an e-mail sent by Kathy Schultz on behalf of Three Rivers Association Director of Missions Dan Eddington, he wrote, “Our Disaster Relief Team leaders and Pastor John Patterson (Parkview Baptist, Marseilles) are assessing the damage… Parkview Baptist had three members from their church sustain damage to their homes from the tornado.” Volunteers from that association have been put on stand-by and were told, “There is much work to be done.”

The Illinois Baptist State Association’s Streator Baptist Camp is providing housing to volunteers serving in the Naplate area.

IBDR has over 1,600 trained volunteers who serve as part of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief ministry, the third largest relief agency in the United States. Disaster Relief often responds to natural disasters by providing feeding stations, mobile kitchens, child care and chaplains. In the case of flooding, volunteers in their signature yellow shirts help homeowners with “mudout,” clearing flooded properties of debris and contaminated building materials, so they can begin rebuilding and recovery.

Cultivate spiritual health

ib2newseditor —  February 9, 2017

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

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

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

“Visionless ministry punches the clock.”

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

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

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

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

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

– MDF

Growing leaders

ib2newseditor —  February 7, 2017

The church’s ministry potential depends on it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doers vs. developers

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Mac Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing down walls

ib2newseditor —  September 26, 2016

Four pastors discuss what it means to be ‘one in Christ’ today

Jesus issues a clear directive in Acts 1:8 to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. His command seems simple enough: Go and tell everyone about me. But when the ends of the earth move in next door, differences in language, religion, customs, and culture can quickly build walls between people who have the gospel and people who need to hear it.

The 2016 IBSA Annual Meeting will explore issues surrounding cross-cultural ministry, including real-life stories of pastors and churches who have sacrificed their own cultural comfort for the sake of the gospel.

The Illinois Baptist sat down with four such leaders for a special roundtable discussion about the cultural idols we all have, why the church seems to be last to change, and how to be a good neighbor. The following interview was edited for space.

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Around the table: (left to right)
– Kevin Carrothers, pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church and president of IBSA
– Marvin Del Rios, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Erie in Chicago and a leader in the movement to reach second- and third-generation Hispanic peoples
– John Yi, IBSA’s second-generation church planting catalyst in Chicago, founder of a community ministry in Maywood, and a leader  at Bethel SBC, a church plant in Mt. Prospect
– Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and vice president of IBSA

Illinois Baptist: Let’s start by defining the big topic. When we talk about ministering cross-culturally for the sake of the gospel, what does that mean to you?

Adron Robinson: In Ephesians 2, when Paul says that we are all one body of Christ, he is telling believers that we are all one new culture, and it is about tearing down our cultural idols in order to be that body of Christ.
We all have inherent cultural idols. We all come from culture and we all come with that assumption that the way we grew up is the way everybody should grow up. The gospel shows us that there is a new normal.

Marvin Del Rios: I go to the book of Acts, chapter 6, what we see between the Hellenistic Jews and the Hebrews. That is something we are living within the Hispanic and Latino churches right now. Unfortunately, the first generation can get stuck in a certain way of preaching, a certain way of leading worship, a certain way of doing church. What is happening is that there is an exodus of the second and third generations from the church. My thing with cross-cultural ministry is that even though I am called to go and preach to the nations, I have a burning desire to go and reach my second- and third-generation Latino culture.

IB: Do you as pastors feel the pressure to lead in that way, to help your churches to move beyond those inherent cultural biases?

Kevin Carrothers: I will certainly agree that that is our responsibility. I was talking to Pastor Adron earlier about Jeremiah 29 and how God spoke through Jeremiah about the exile. The verse that sticks out in my mind is Jeremiah 29:7. It says, “Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to; pray to the Lord on its behalf for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.”

Sometimes we feel like we are living in exile wherever we are. But we are called to wherever we are. God has planted us there, and we need to have transformational ministry in our communities. That does mean crossing all kinds of cultural divides.

Robinson: The other side of that, of God telling them to seek the welfare of the city, is them overcoming their nationalism.

Carrothers: That’s right.

Robinson: For them, Jerusalem was the pinnacle. God says, “Well, now you are in Babylon and you are to make Babylon a better place. You have been planted there sovereignly for a purpose.” Part of that is laying down our love for our old culture and doing what God has called us to do in a new context.

IB: We know that communities change over the years—your churches have experienced those shifting demographics in their neighborhoods. How does community change affect a church’s ability to reach across cultures?

Robinson: Hillcrest started as an Anglo church in an Anglo community. As the community transitioned to a more blended community, the church is always the last thing to change. The community was predominately African-American and the church was still predominately Anglo. They become known in the community as “that” church, not “our” church.

When they called me as pastor, the first thing we started to do is to try to reach our neighbors. Our first priority was to get out and meet the community and build relationships so that we could have conversations about faith going forward. We connected with a high school across the street. We connected with City Hall. We started to look for ways to be incarnational. How can we take the gospel out to other places?

IB: You mentioned the church is always the last thing to change. Do you think that’s true of most churches?

Robinson: Yes, I think that’s most churches. I think we downplay how big of an idol comfort really is to us. As communities transition, churches can easily fall into the “us versus them” mentality. This is our church, we have always been here. Yeah, but the purpose of the church is to reach the community with the gospel. So if the neighborhood changes, you have new neighbors to reach.

Del Rios: We don’t change fast enough and then when we do decide to change, we are already five to ten years behind. Then we are doing the catch-up game, and I think that’s where we as leaders get tired. We feel like we are in the hamster wheel running around doing nothing.

Yi: I think the big secret that we need to bring out into the open is that every church is “that” church, it’s just a matter of which “that” you are going to be. I still remember when you talked about a church, it was, “That’s the Catholic church, that’s the Baptist church, that’s a Methodist church.” But it’s not like that anymore. I think that churches can be more proactive about helping the community define what they are.

Working around church planters, one of the things we see is leaders being very proactive about what they want their church to be known as, what their niche is. Of course, in churches, we are not supposed to be public relations people, but I think we do have to be concerned, not just with what do the people outside the church think of us, but also what do our own members think of us. What kind of church are we? I think there is a lot we can do to help shape that. We do not have millions of dollars to create that public image, but we do have a currency and that’s the way we do our ministry. The way we engage our neighbors.

Robinson: I think John touched on something important: Every church is going to be that something. People are going to say that’s the church that does this or that church does that. You need to get out front in defining what your church is going to be known for. John 13:35 comes to mind. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Carrothers: Probably where our church has struggled the most is that we have to give away without expecting anything in return. We have done a fall festival for nine years, but it hasn’t brought a single member into the church. People have asked me why we keep doing this if we are not seeing people come into the church. My response is, if you can come up with something else where we can speak into 300-500 people’s lives in our community, then I’m all ears. Well, nobody has taken me up on that yet because we are speaking to 80 people on Sunday morning.

IB: Is expecting something in return one of those cultural idols we talked about?

Robinson: The corporate model, which is an idol from the world. One of the budget shifts Hillcrest made as far as reaching the community was to stop doing events for how much we can get back. We are doing whatever it is to extend the gospel to our community, which means that we are going to have to spend some money and sacrifice in order to reach our neighbors with the love of Christ. It’s not all going to come right back. You’re not going to have an event today and 50 new neighbors come in next week.

Yi: If you can get your congregation to think that way, that the church really is a non-profit organization, that we are not doing ministry for profit, that’s a success too. Just getting that shift in thinking.

Robinson: Getting the membership to embrace discipleship.

Carrothers: Absolutely. That’s a kingdom value.

Del Rios: We established a Halloween outreach at the church three years ago. We open the doors and the kids come in with their families. We have a little table for kids’ activities, something very simple, and they get candy and they can leave. Then, as they are leaving, the parents are there and we have adults there to have simple conversations. Some lead to gospel conversations.

Now, how many have joined the church out of the last three or four years during that process? None. But this Saturday there was a block party in our neighborhood and I went to visit and just talk to a couple of folks I know. The people I talked to introduced me to other folks, and the other folks said, “You’re the church with the Halloween stuff going on. You’re the church that gave us hot chocolate and that Spanish coffee that was delicious.” Yes, we are the church. Are they coming in? They are not, but they associate us with the church on Halloween that had the great Spanish coffee and they came in and they listened to a gospel conversation. Not a Bible-banging conversation, but a gospel conversation.

Carrothers: Isn’t it interesting that one of the things Paul talks about in Romans 12 is hospitality?

Del Rios: Yes.

Carrothers: Isn’t the heart of hospitality giving away without expecting anything in return?

Robinson: In Acts 2, we see the church breaking bread together going house to house. It’s relationships when you read the Gospels. Jesus shares his life with 12 people. He teaches them by example what it looks like to have a relationship with God and they go out and spread the gospel with more people. They are living together, eating together, hanging out together all day long. Our churches are so “Sunday meeting, Wednesday meeting.” See you next Sunday, see you next Wednesday. We started to incorporate intentional hospitality to the life of the church.

Watch for Part 2 on this blog Thursday, September 29, 2016

– Meredith Flynn, editorial contributor