Archives For mission field

The road ahead

ib2newseditor —  October 30, 2017

A tough but exciting journey awaits us

Postcard art w adventure inserted

If we were to drive west from Illinois, whether along Interstate 70 from St. Louis, 72 from Springfield, or 80 from Chicago, the experience would be largely the same. We would continue in a long, straight line for a very long time, rolling over a few hills and rivers in Missouri or Iowa before settling into the even longer, even straighter, seemingly eternal plains of Kansas or Nebraska and eastern Colorado. Then we would see the mountains.

Imagine what early pioneers must have thought when the amazing barrier of the Rocky Mountains first appeared on the horizon. No doubt many of them turned south or north for a while, hoping to find a way around. They knew the experience, equipment, and skills that had carried them across the slowly elevating plains would not take them over those mountains. They would need to find a pass, a way through. And even that journey would be like none they had faced before.

As we Southern Baptists in Illinois now approach our state’s bicentennial year, our journey is much the same. We have been on a long, flat path for years—in number of churches, in baptisms, in church plants, in giving, and in most measures of church involvement and growth. That’s not a criticism. It’s just a description of our recent journey.

Along the way, hardly noticeable until just recently, the altitude has gradually increased and the climb has grown steeper. So many cultural dynamics have grown counter to Christian faith, and perhaps especially to Baptist faith. We too can turn to the left or to the right for a while. But to truly advance from the plains of our status quo up into the mountains our mission now faces, I believe we must dig deep and find a new, pioneering spirit.

Go to new places
In Illinois Baptist mission life, going new places means taking the gospel to the counties and cities and communities where Baptist or even evangelical churches don’t yet exist or have a strong presence. It means church planting.

IBSA churches have numbered right around 1,000 for decades, even while planting around 20 new churches a year. With those one thousand churches baptizing between four and five new believers each, we reach about 4,000 to 5,000 people per year. Yet Illinois has 13 million people, and at least 8 million of them don’t claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And most of them do not live near our existing churches. To leave the flatland of our status quo and reach the lost people of Illinois, we must increase and accelerate the number of new churches being started. We must place a gospel witness near them.

Pioneering Spirit Challenge #1: Will your church adopt at least one of the 200 places where a new church is needed? Your commitment can be to pray, or to partner with others to get that church started, or to be the primary planting church. Will you pray, partner, or plant?

Engage new people
Establishing healthy, new churches in the places where they are needed is one important commitment of a pioneering spirit. The first Baptists arrived in Illinois during a time when it was extremely difficult and even dangerous just to survive and eke out a living. Yet they considered it a priority to share the gospel and to start new Baptist churches. Four of those churches that were in existence when Illinois became a state in 1818 are still serving their communities today!

But being blessed—and burdened—with a pioneering spirit also leads churches, both new and established, to intentionally and consistently engage new people with the gospel message. With a sense of urgency, they will evangelize.

Sadly, it’s possible even for a well-intentioned church to lose its passion for evangelism, and become more of a church of settlers than a church of pioneers. They worship, and study, and fellowship, and even serve one another and the community. But very little energy goes into seeking and saving the lost.

Consider this: The almost 1,000 IBSA churches baptized about 4,000 people last year, four per church on average. But over 300 churches reported no baptisms at all. The remaining churches that reported baptisms averaged seven each. If non-baptizing churches simply reached the same number of people with the gospel that baptizing churches did, 7,000 people would come to know Christ next year. And just imagine what would happen if the churches already baptizing seven or more started baptizing monthly!

By intentionally shifting their focus toward evangelism, churches that have settled can become pioneering churches again.

Pioneering Spirit Challenge #2: Will your church commit to turning itself inside out into your community, training its members to intentionally have gospel conversations and evangelistic events, and asking God to increase the number of baptisms you see each year? Will you do whatever it takes to become a more frequently baptizing church?

Make new sacrifices
Going to new places and engaging new people is costly. It’s one reason so many stay where they are—and settle. Many early pioneers packed literally everything they owned into a wagon, and some sacrificed it all to get to their destination. A pioneering spirit sees the value of moving toward those new places and new people, and is willing to give sacrificially to make it happen.

Going to a new place of mission effectiveness here in Illinois will be costly too, especially if God inspires more churches and raises up more leaders, planters, and missionaries to go to new places and engage many new people. Fortunately, we as Illinois Baptists have a wonderful, reliable, tested vehicle in which to entrust our sacrifices. The Cooperative Program (some call it CP Missions) prioritizes missions in Illinois by investing 56.5% of its gifts here, while also sending 43.5% to be combined with others’ gifts and take the gospel throughout North America and the world.

Today the average IBSA church gives about 7% of its undesignated offerings to local and worldwide missions through the Cooperative Program. As with baptisms, that average is the result of some churches sacrificing far more, and some sacrificing far less. At one time, 10% was the accepted norm for Cooperative Program missions, and at one time IBSA churches averaged giving 11% rather than 7%. Simply stated, a return to that 10% standard could result in over $3 million more to missions next year.

Pioneering Spirit Challenge #3: Will your church commit to a new level of sacrificial missions giving through the Cooperative Program? Will you challenge your members to faithful tithing and life stewardship, so that generous giving transforms their own lives, as well as others’?

Develop new leaders
A pioneering spirit must be multi-generational. Very few destinations that require true, pioneering effort can be fully attained in one lifetime. Our parents’ generation brought us this far into our Baptist missionary journey in Illinois, and now we lead and will go a little farther before entrusting the journey to our children. That’s why a pioneering spirit must invest in the development of new leaders, even as it sacrifices and gives its all now.

It seems that churches used to have more systematic ways of developing new leaders. Sunday nights were invested in church leadership training programs. Wednesday nights were often invested in missions education programs that developed boys and girls, and young men and women, for tomorrow’s missionary and church leadership roles.

We should be grateful for churches that still develop tomorrow’s leaders in this way, while not necessarily wishing the same programs or methods on others. But today, more than ever, we must ask ourselves with a new seriousness, “How are we systematically and intentionally developing leaders for tomorrow’s churches?”

Pioneering Spirit Challenge #4: Will your church commit to the intentional developing of younger leaders who will be tomorrow’s pastors, and church planters, and missionaries? Will you join with other Baptist partners like IBSA who can help you develop these young leaders for tomorrow’s church?

Facing our mountains
Last summer I traveled to Loveland, Colorado, in part to scout out Long’s Peak, a 14,259-foot mountain that will hopefully, next year, be the thirty-first and most difficult “fourteener” I climb. As I headed west from the Interstate and flatlands of Loveland, I could not immediately see the pass up into the mountains. But soon I noticed that the road was following a stream, and then a mighty, rushing river. There was barely room for a road in some places, but the water had cut enough of a path through the rock that we could now follow it up to previously impossible heights. We eagerly forged ahead.

To leave the flat trends of our recent journey as Illinois Baptists may seem impossible at first. Our 200-year-old mission field is more lost now than ever. And developing new leaders while making new sacrifices to engage new people in new places with the gospel—well, that’s no easy path. But I believe the living water of God’s own Spirit has already made a way for us. If we are filled with his Pioneering Spirit and will follow him forward by faith, even into difficult places, I believe God has new heights planned for us here in Illinois.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. The challenges outlined here will be presented in the Annual Meeting.

The Briefing

Christian nation no more?
Most Americans do not believe America is a Christian nation today, even if many say it was in the past. About one-third (35%) of the American public believes the U.S. was a Christian nation in the past and is still a Christian nation today; close to half (45%) say the U.S. was once a Christian nation but no longer remains so; and 14% say the U.S. has never been a Christian nation.

SWBTS apologizes for photo
Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, apologized for a photo of white professors posing as rappers that appeared on Twitter and was instantly deemed racist. The photo featured senior School of Preaching faculty members gesturing and wearing bandannas and chains and was labeled “Notorious S.O.P.” One of them appears to hold a handgun.

Cedarville’s Philippians 4:8 rule
This spring, Cedarville University enacted new curriculum guidelines inspired by Philippians 4:8 and aimed at purifying coursework of erotic and graphic content. The university has spelled out new guidelines officially barring any materials that “may be considered ‘adult’ in nature, that represent immorality, or that may be a stumbling block to students.”

Religious freedom dying in Russia
Russia’s nationwide outlaw of Jehovah’s Witnesses will likely ricochet and strike other religions outside of Russian Orthodoxy there, said Donald Ossewaarde, an independent Baptist missionary forced to shut down his church in that country. He has exhausted his appeals on an August 2016 conviction of operating a church without a permit under the 2016 anti-religion Yarovaya Law. Ossewaarde, who is making plans to return May 8 to his home in Elgin, Ill., said every religion outside Russian Orthodoxy is considered a cult.

Students: Biblical views on sex ‘unChrist-like’
A student club at Seattle Pacific University recently protested against the Christian university because it adheres to biblical views on human sexuality and gender identity.  The club, called SPU Haven, which advocates for gay students, claims that the university’s “Statement on Human Sexuality” is “unethical, unscientific and unChrist-like,” according to College Fix.

Sources: Facts and Trends, Religion News, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, The Christian Post

Taking the risk

ib2newseditor —  November 17, 2016

Serving Christ has always been dangerous. He said it would be. Now, even telling the stories of missionaries puts them in danger.

London | We can’t tell you their names. We can’t tell you where they live. We can’t really even tell you where they work. They are missionaries.

Times have changed. We all know social and cultural values have recently experienced massive upheavals in western nations. Religion has played a major role in these changes. Missions work is no longer tolerated in places it once was. Working to fulfill the Great Commission can no longer be done so openly.

We can’t tell you their names. We can’t tell you where they live. We can’t really even tell you where they work. They are missionaries.

Coinciding with these cultural shifts are changes within the Southern Baptist Convention’s largest missions sending agency. The International Mission Board (IMB) is adapting the way it does missions. When IMB President David Platt stepped into the role in 2014 he soon discovered the agency was facing a budget overspend of more than $200 million. Personnel costs would have to be greatly reduced with action being taken quickly. With a major and largely voluntary staff reduction in 2015, going from nearly 5,000 missionaries and staff to 3,800, IMB expects have a balanced budget in 2017.

The changes included cutting most of the communications team serving in Richmond, and replacing them with a small team of young communication specialists stationed at points all around the world. With them comes new strategies for engaging Southern Baptists with missionaries that take into account the risky business of gospel witness.

Not your mother’s mission magazine
You may have noticed the stories about IMB missionaries have changed. Remember Commission magazine, with its glossy photos and National Geographic style? Today’s mission stories are not written in a long, detailed format anymore. We don’t often see photographs of missionaries’ faces. The name of the countries where they serve may not be reported. There is a good reason for this. A very good reason.

horse-and-rider

SHADOW AND LIGHT – This photo from IMB’s
Instagram account shows their new communication strategy: show the missions concept, but protect the identity of the missionary. Posted with the photo is a brief message from the missionary: “Pray for God to provide me with a teammate willing to work in rough, remote places so we can reach the mountain shepherd people.”

Almost a dozen state Baptist convention newspaper editors met with members of the Board’s media network in London recently. The chief topic was security concerns.

“There’s spiritual warfare on the front lines,” a member of the media team shared. “A battle is going on against the spread of the gospel.”

For example, one missionary took all the necessary precautions. But when a photo that had been taken years earlier was found online it led to his undoing. Somehow a person in the country where the missionary was serving connected it with some other information online to learn the missionary’s true identity. It almost cost him his life.

He walked, unsuspecting, into a meeting and found the atmosphere was charged with anger. People once friendly were now menacing as they kept him there for hours shouting, “Is this you? Did you say this?” When he was finally allowed to leave, he gathered his family and they fled the country. His identity had been compromised and it was no longer safe for them to continue to spread the gospel message in that country.

The missionary life can require living in countries where it’s dangerous to be a Christian. But it can also be risky living in “safe” countries among those same people groups that are hostile to Christians. There are parts of Africa and Asia that have always been high risk and high security for missionaries. With the increased mobilization of people, now it’s not just there, it’s everywhere.

“There’s spiritual warfare on the front lines. A battle is going on against the spread of the gospel.”

In other cases, the country may feel it is already a Christian nation and therefore does not need to admit anyone into the country for the express purpose of doing mission work. In those places, missionaries enter as workers who are in the country to do charity work or other vocations.

Tell the old, old story—differently
If you visit the International Mission Board’s website, IMB.org, you can read its mission statement, “Our mission is evangelizing, discipling, and planting reproducing churches among all peoples in fulfillment of the Great Commission.”

In today’s world, technological advance has produced security issues, so can the missions stories be told to the people back home in the pews? It’s becoming more and more challenging. Things aren’t as simple as when Lottie Moon would write about her work in China and send the letter to Annie Armstrong to be copied (and recopied) by hand or typewriter, and distributed across the United States.

For years the National Woman’s Missionary Union’s prayer calendar in Missions Mosaic magazine has contained a birthday prayer calendar for missionaries. It listed their names and the countries where they served. In recent years, fewer real names or locations can be shared. Quite often a pseudonym will be used along with a region of the world, “South Asia,” for instance.

While the IMB remains committed to telling the story back home, they are having to become more and more creative in doing so. Lengthy articles are now less common and story vignettes are better vehicles not only due to safety concerns, but also for ever shrinking attention spans.

“The missionary life, missions sending, it’s always changing.”

This has caused the IMB to shift the way it creates the content of a story, looking more at the concept that describes the missions work. As a member of the media team said, “There are avenues of telling the story without focusing on people in specific locations. We’ve had to shift the way we’re doing content altogether.”

The use of social media including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter is proving to be a good way for Southern Baptists to stay informed about missions. It connects with younger generations who need also to learn the importance of giving to missions through the Cooperative Program.

The IMB website has undergone a complete retooling and now sports a fresh look that supports this challenging new media world.

Another change is in the reporting on the safety of missionaries after breaking news events. Southern Baptists often express interest in how an event affects missions efforts in those areas. According to their website, “Due to security considerations for IMB personnel and the national believers with whom they work, we usually don’t discuss their locations. However, with any breaking news event, we are in contact with anyone who might be affected, due to travel or other reasons, to confirm their safety and security.”

A media team member summed it up: “The missionary life, missions sending, it’s always changing. There are always new security challenges necessitating a new way of telling their stories. Most of our missionaries, we can’t print their names.”

Lisa Misner Sergent will focus on London, a world city with many people groups, in her next report.

Mission Illinois Offering Devotion Day 3

MIO-box-smallThis spring seven Illinois women set aside their daily responsibilities for a week and said “yes” to a call to South Asia. There they worked with Muslim women. Team member Lindsay McDonald said it was a very dark and oppressed place, “but I think in the darkness, we were also allowed to see hope.” Even in a place of persecution, women raised their hands wanting to become followers of Christ.

“We went expecting to see certain things and then God delivers the unexpected!” said Carmen Halsey.

IBSA aids churches in sending more than 22,000 people each year to serve on mission teams, in their communities and around the world.

Pray for IBSA’s Carmen Halsey and Dwayne Doyle and the teams they help train. And pray for your church’s involvement in missions.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering

Watch Lindsay McDonald’s story, “Mobilizing volunteers worldwide.”

NEWS | Eric Reed

Admittedly, the numbers are not great. But the tally of the 2014 Annual Church Profiles filed by IBSA churches shows the need in Illinois is growing, and the recent call to prayer for spiritual awakening is on target.

“The job is getting harder, the climb is getting steeper, the leaders are getting fewer—but the challenge is no less important,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams prior to the report presented to the IBSA Board in its March meeting. In fact, the challenge grows, as does Illinois Baptists’ responsibility in our large and significant mission field.

The 2014 ACPs, completed by 95% of IBSA churches, showed declines in several areas including worship attendance (-10.5%), baptisms (-11%) and Sunday school/Bible study participation (-1.5%).

Adams expressed concern about the declines, especially in baptisms, which had increased in recent years. “The actual decline is about 3.4%” when comparing churches that reported in both 2014 and 2013. Several churches that reported baptisms in 2013 were “non-cooperating” in 2014, therefore their tallies were not included in the ACP tally.

Despite wintry weather, the IBSA Board met March 3 in Springfield, where Sandy Barnard (below) was honored for 30 years at IBSA.

Despite wintry weather, the IBSA Board met March 3
in Springfield, where Sandy Barnard (below) was honored for 30 years at IBSA.

Sandy_Barnard_0316

While total missions giving through the Cooperative Program was down slightly year-to-year, from $6.34 million to $6.1 million, the average percentage of undesignated offerings given by Illinois churches held steady from 2013 to 2014 at 6.8%. The national average was 5.5% in 2013, up from 5.4% the year before and marking the first upward tick in over 30 years.

The Board approved a plan to draft the 2016 IBSA budget based on projected CP giving of $6.4 million, and to hold the Illinois/national SBC split on Cooperative Program offerings at 56.75/43.25%. Gifts above the hoped-for goal will be shared evenly by IBSA and the national SBC at 50/50.

Four goals for 2016 were recommended by the board’s strategic planning committee and approved. They will guide planning for IBSA’s work next
year, with a focus on the development of leaders who grow healthy, evangelistic, reproducing congregations. Some goals may seem beyond our capability, said committee chairman Larry Wells, “but God can do it all through his people who pray and who work diligently for the kingdom.”

Adams explained the new focus on leadership development in his report to the Board, citing attendance of more than 300 Illinois church leaders at the January 20-22 Midwest Leadership Summit in Springfield as evidence of interest in, and hunger for, training and coaching. “I think we have such a long way to go in true, deep leadership development,” Adams said. “We’ve come a long way, but we have much more to do.”

Adams pointed to deployment of eight part-time zone consultants across the state and the work of the new Church Resources Team creating new conferencing opportunities and learning cohorts as ways IBSA is focusing on growing effective church leaders.

Board members braved a winter storm to attend the March 3 meeting, with some traveling icy roads in Central Illinois to handle state association business. That raised the question whether such meetings can be joined by telephone or over the internet. With 27 members present, a quorum was easily reached, so the meeting proceeded. A similar question about long-distance electronic participation in board and committee meetings was raised at the IBSA Annual Meeting in November. Board chairman Chip Faulkner reported the issue is presently under consideration.

The Board welcomed seven new members: Steve Hardin of Roland Manor Church in Washington, Curt Lipe of Faith Church in Galesburg, Scott Nichols of Crossroads Church in Carol Stream, Jay Simala of New Song Church in Zion, Sammy Simmons of Immanuel Church in Benton, and Daniel Wilson of Grace Church in Granite City.

For 30 years of service to Illinois Baptists, Executive Administrative Assistant Sandy Barnard was honored with a standing ovation, a gift, flowers, and cake. (Later, she was seen cleaning up after the party.)

Cathy Waters was recognized for 10 years’ service. She was recently promoted to the position of Ministry Coordinator for the Church Resources Team, organizing large events and conferences.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper and IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Communications Team.