Archives For ministry

‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ writer announces ‘massive shift’ away from faith
A week after announcing his separation from his wife of 20 years, author Joshua Harris posted online that he’s no longer a Christian. “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian,” Harris wrote on Instagram July 26. “Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.”

Harris wrote the pro-courtship book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” in 1997, chronicling his relationship with his future wife.

Village Church sued for neglect in sexual assault case
A Southern Baptist church in Texas is facing a $1 million lawsuit that claims it hasn’t done enough to resolve sexual assault that occurred at a church camp in 2012. The suit against The Village Church says the church acted with “conscious indifference or reckless disregard” for a woman referred to as Jane Doe.

Former Village staff member Matthew Tonne was arrested in January on charges of indecency with a child and is awaiting trial, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Willow Creek struggles to move forward after Hybels
Christianity Today reports Willow Creek Community Church held a meeting in July to try to find closure more than a year after the resignation of founding pastor Bill Hybels, who stepped down in April 2018 amid allegations of sexual misconduct. The Chicago megachurch’s elder board also resigned, and the church has since seen declines in giving and attendance, according to CT.

Baptists travel to U.S. border on ‘fact-finding mission’
Marshall Ausberry and Todd Unzicker met with immigrants in Mexico and Baptist leaders on both sides of the border to find out how the SBC can minister there amid the growing crisis. Ausberry, the SBC’s first vice president, and Unzicker, an associate pastor at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, will report their findings to SBC President J.D. Greear as he formulates ideas for Baptist ministry at the border.

Quiz sheds light on Americans’ religious knowledge
87% of Americans know an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in God, but only 24% know Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. And just under half think “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is one of the Ten Commandments. Those are among the findings of Pew’s quiz of American adults on a variety of religious topics.

Sources: The Christian Post, The Dallas Morning News, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Pew Research Center

Evangelicals divided on border fix
The recent response of Christian leaders to the situation at the U.S./Mexico border points to significant divides on the immigration issue.

Following media reports of harrowing conditions at a Texas border station, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted, “The reports of the conditions for migrant children at the border should shock all of our consciences. Those created in the image of God should be treated with dignity and compassion, especially those seeking refuge from violence back home. We can do better than this.”

Others, including Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Texas pastor Jack Graham, took issue with Moore’s tweet. Graham defended the work of border agents and churches ministering at the border and invited Moore to visit the border with him. He also added, “Just to clarify…reasonable people know we have a humanitarian crisis at/border but to suggest that immigrants are not treated with dignity & respect is wrong & plays to secular press who blame America for the problem. We r all very concerned and many of us are trying to help.”

‘We could no longer look away’
Southern Baptist pastor Alan Cross reflects on how a graphic photo of a father and daughter who drowned while trying to cross from Mexico into Texas “jolted the nation awake.” Editor’s note: Link includes disturbing images.

‘Every effort at reform has been overridden or ignored’
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson describes horrifying conditions at the border and blames Democrat lawmakers for impeding President Trump’s efforts to improve the situation. “The border could be fixed, but there are very few in authority who seem to care,” Dobson said.

‘Like we have never seen before’
Speaking to a group of conservative Christian activists, Vice President Mike Pence confirmed the reality of a crisis at the border but advocated different policies than those espoused by Democratic candidates for president. “Those who would advocate open borders, free health care for illegal immigrants and making illegal immigration legal are making it easier for human traffickers to mistreat poor and vulnerable families,” Pence said.

‘We want to look away. But let’s not.’
Five Christian leaders, including author and Texas pastor Max Lucado, lament the conditions at the border and the suffering of children and families.

Sources: Associated Press, Christian Post, Religion News Service, Christianity Today

Nathan CarterRecent abortion-expanding legislation, high-profile pastoral failures, and a pending statewide “exodus” are a few of the concerns cited by Chicago pastor Nathan Carter. “Yet Christians must not despair or retreat,” Carter writes in his call to prayer on ERLC.com.

“Ours is not the first age to have rulers who ‘frame injustice by statute’ (Ps. 94:20). And the gospel still has the power to transform people who are foolishly set on autonomy at all costs into selfless lovers of the less fortunate other,” wrote Carter, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago. “For the gospel tells of One who did not take life to protect his own, but laid his life down to give life to those who killed him.

“Pray for churches in Illinois to be renewed by this gospel and live out of it in the midst of its mission field.”

Baptists authored bill now before Texas Senate
Southern Baptists initiated a measure they hope the Texas Senate will vote to approve before the May 27 end of their current session. The bill, Baptist Press reported, would protect charitable organizations, their volunteers, and independent contractors from liability when disclosing credible sexual abuse allegations to prospective employers, even when no criminal charges have been filed against the accused.

The Texas House of Representatives unanimously approved the bill May 8.

Harvest pulls MacDonald’s sermons
Three months after firing Pastor James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicagoland has removed audio and video versions of his sermons from their online channels. The church also won’t move forward with plans to distribute MacDonald’s “Walk in the Word” digitally, Christianity Today reported.

Freed woman’s attorney takes up another blasphemy case in Pakistan
The attorney for Asia Bibi, who was imprisoned for years on charges of blasphemy, said he will help the woman who now occupies her prison cell.

States consider Bible classes in public schools
Several states are now offering elective Bible and religion classes for public school students. The Washington Post explains how it works in two school districts in Kentucky, and how advocates are working to pass similar legislation in more states.

Survey: Growing diversity has advantages and challenges, Americans say
Americans have complicated views about the country’s growing diversity, Pew Research reports. Among the findings of a new survey: three-quarters of people say it’s important to promote diversity in the workplace, but only 24% believe companies should take race and ethnicity into account along with qualifications when it comes to decisions about hiring and promotions.

-Baptist Press, Christianity Today (2), USA Today, The Washington Post, Pew Research

Disaster Relief teams respond in Iowa, Nebraska
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) leaders are working with a critical timeframe in the Midwest, where flooding has damaged homes and displaced residents. With tornado season looming and warmer temperatures on the way, responding to more than 1,400 requests for help is urgent, said Sam Porter, national director for SBDR at the North American Mission Board.

Illinois teams are currently serving in Glenwood, Iowa, and are scheduled to be there through May. For more information, go to IBSA.org/DR.

Prolific Warren Wiersbe remembered for writing gift
“I’m not an athlete, I’m not a mechanic,” said writer and pastor Warren Wiersbe. “I can’t do so many of the things that successful men can do. But I can read and study and think and teach. This is a beautiful, wonderful gift from God.”

Wiersbe authored more than 150 books, including the “Be” commentaries, a 50-volume series on the Old and New Testaments. Wiersbe died May 2 at the age of 89.

Fellow leaders mourn Rachel Held Evans
Progressive Christian writer and speaker Rachel Held Evans died May 4 after a brief illness. She was 37. Christian leaders from across the theological spectrum grieved for Evans’ husband and young children, and lauded her unique style, despite disagreements they may have had.

Church membership down, anxiety up nationwide
Gallup reported last month that 50% of Americans are church members, a decline of 20 percentage points since 1999. Another study from the researcher reports Americans were more stressed, worried, and angry in 2018 than at most other times in the last decade.

Floyd calls church to unity on National Day of Prayer
“…Government cannot fix us. Politics cannot heal us. But loving one another can change the world,” said Southern Baptist leader Ronnie Floyd on the National Day of Prayer observance in the U.S. Capitol. Floyd, National Day of Prayer Task Force chairman and president-election of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, said, “A divided church cannot call a divided nation to unity. Love is the better way.”

-Baptist Press (2), Christianity Today, ChristianPost.com, Gallup.com

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