Archives For Mission Illinois

By Eric Reed

Wide Shot of CrowdShawn and Paige Ruffino live in Sesser, a small town of about 2,000 people in far south Franklin County. Sesser is Paige’s hometown, and Shawn says he has come to love it as his own. That’s why he’s concerned for the spiritual future of the people who live there.

Likewise, the leaders of the church where the Ruffinos are members, Immanuel Baptist Church in nearby Benton, are continually growing in their concern for lost people in Benton and Sesser, and throughout their county. “We’ve been praying at Immanuel for many years for the 26,000 who are lost in our county,” Pastor Sammy Simmons said. “I desperately want everyone the hear the gospel.”

Simmons has led Immanuel Church to join a new IBSA initiative called Everyone Hears. In our state of nearly 13-million people, at least 8-million don’t know Jesus as their personal savior. In many places lostness seems especially great. And there are pockets of hope, where churches are focused on sharing the gospel with everyone who will listen. Everyone Hears aims to organize those efforts, with an evangelism cycle that begins with prayer, and moves through specific activities to demonstrate caring, sharing the gospel, baptizing new believers, and where there is an emerging core group, starting new churches.

Day 3 Church Planting“The purpose of Everyone Hears is that every man, woman, boy, and girl in a certain region can hear the gospel multiple times in ways they can understand,” said Eddie Pullen, IBSA’s church planting strategist who is leading the initiative. So far, 25 IBSA churches across the state are participating in Everyone Hears, targeting their own communities, or areas nearby.

Immanuel Baptist is seeking to reach their county, and Benton and Sesser in particular. At Easter, the church cancelled events at their campus and took worship services outdoors in both communities. About 200 people attended in Sesser, and at least 60 of them had no church affiliation.

The church has engaged in other activities, including praying for lost individuals by name on many occasions, giving away groceries, working to improve the park, hosting opening ceremonies for local ball teams. Bible distribution and a social media campaign are next steps on their outreach list.

“The idea of gospel saturation really hit my heart,” Simmons said. “It’s not just the idea that we want somebody to hear the gospel once and think that’s good enough. Surveys say sometimes it takes seven times where somebody hears the gospel before they make a decision for Christ. And so we want to saturate our area with the gospel such that you can’t miss it.”

Immanuel Church is engaged in international missions, spreading the gospel in Uganda through 12 trips in eight years. But, the pastor said, “we can’t ignore the reality that there are people who have never heard in our own backyard.”

Shawn Rufina

Shawn Rufina

Shawn Ruffino agrees. “We believe it can happen right here; gospel saturation can start right here.” That’s why Ruffino is leading outreach in Sesser. He chokes up as he says, “Jesus changes us, and he can save us, and he can use us no matter what we’ve been through.”

Or where we live.

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

Give them the gospel

Lisa Misner —  August 19, 2019

A new ministry reignited this church’s passion

By Meredith Flynn

MIO Next Gen

Outside the white wooden First Baptist Church building, Atwood is quiet on Wednesday evening. A few parents stroll babies on the sidewalks, and a group of teen boys walks toward the school gym, basketball in hand. This community of just over 1,000 people is minutes from Illinois’ Amish country.

From the church parking lot, though, the thump, thump, thump of a bass line played over stereo speakers gets louder at the door. Inside the darkened auditorium, children and teens swing their arms and stomp their feet—matching the motions of a worship leader onstage.

This is Ignite, FBC Atwood’s year-old ministry for kids and students. On this Wednesday night, Pastor Lanny Faulkner will baptize 17 young people who came to Christ through Ignite or another of the church’s ministries for kids and teens. (The church baptized 15 people total last year.)

His church understands the statistics, Faulkner said. Most people that come to faith in Christ do so at a young age.

“If we’re going to change the world, we have to change Atwood,” said Faulkner, who has led the church since 2006. “If we’re going to change Atwood, we have to reach children and young families.”

Braving a new world
The generation coming of age now has experienced the world in a completely different way than the adults leading them at church, said Jimmy Hammond, an IBSA associate who facilitates student ministry around the state.

“For us, the challenge is learning how to see things from their perspective, so we can find meaningful ways to connect to them,” Hammond said. Throughout the year, IBSA sponsors camps and conferences for kids of all ages, and training opportunities specifically tailored for children’s and youth leaders.

Those events are possible because of the Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer. Collected in September in churches across Illinois, the Offering helps provide missions and ministry that address critical needs in the state. MIO also supports IBSA personnel like Director of Next Generation Ministries Jack Lucas.

As IBSA and church leaders partner together to reach the next generation, they recognize the window is narrow. A 2004 Barna study found that 43% of Americans who profess faith in Jesus do so before they turn 13, and 64% before their 18th birthday.

The next generation presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for church leaders. They see the problems in the world around them, Hammond said, but they’re not content to sit idly. They want to be involved; they want to make a difference. “But they’re just not sure how to do that.

“We know the answer to that: the gospel’s the way to make the biggest, most meaningful change in the world.”

In the world, and in Atwood. Every Wednesday at the beginning of Ignite, attenders read or recite a 30-second gospel summary. Ignite leaders say they’ve heard kids sharing the gospel summary at school. And Faulkner recently baptized an entire family that came to Christ after the children heard the gospel every week. The parents, sitting at the back of the auditorium, heard it too, and responded in faith.

Finding what works
For 25 years, FBC Atwood church hosted a successful Wednesday night children’s ministry that depended on many teachers. When the number of available teachers dwindled, the church had to get a new vision for the ministry. They tweaked the structure so that fewer teachers are required. The church saw an average of 120 young people every Wednesday during Ignite’s first year.

Some things are the same, though. Faulkner still rides the church bus on Wednesday nights as it picks up a dozen or more children from neighboring communities. The pastor serves as bus captain (or monitor); the driver is a deputy sheriff who has been transporting kids to and from the church for 25 years. His wife, who recently passed away, started the original kids’ ministry in Atwood. Together, Faulkner said, the couple is responsible for hundreds of kids coming to know Christ.

On Wednesday nights in Atwood, the message is also the same as it always has been.

“The gospel is the power of God unto salvation,” Faulkner says. “It’s not preaching ability, teaching ability, how exciting the music is. The thing that brings people under conviction, the things that bring them to repentance and faith, is the gospel.”

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

Meredith Flynn

Why Illinois matters

Lisa Misner —  August 16, 2019

By IBSA Media

Everyday headlines affirm church influence urgently needed—especially here

Illinois townsSeveral recent news stories have left us surprised, even stunned. The report that, at the stroke of the governor’s pen, LGBT history will be part of the Illinois public school curriculum starting next year leaves some Christian parents wondering how to handle the controversial subject at home, and other parents contemplating alternate education options.

In an opinion column for USA Today, Jay Keck told how his daughter, who later proved to be autistic, was affirmed by the school system in her sudden desire to identify as male, despite the objections of her parents who were trying to get help. The principal of the Chicago-area school even presented her diploma under her assumed male name at her graduation, again ignoring her parents’ request.

And this story hasn’t made the news yet, but it will probably show up on Facebook. In one quaint Illinois burg, a featured children’s book at the public library is about two worms who want to get married, but they can’t decide which of them will wear the bridal gown. Earthworms are hermaphrodites, which seems by the author’s implication to justify some gender-crossing behaviors in humans. It’s a celebration of love “in all its forms,” the book jacket says—for preschoolers.

The stories that alarm us and dismay us are not only about sexuality and gender and identity. They’re also about the multiplicity of gambling parlors for throwing away one’s pension check, abortions through all nine months of pregnancy, and readily available pot in violation of federal law. The moral decline of Illinois has happened so quickly, and most of it at the hand of the government. Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t recognize this state. Would he even claim it as his own?

When we look across Illinois today, we see issues that once troubled cities are prevalent everywhere. From the smallest farming community with a school house or a bar, to the toughest neighborhoods in the largest cities, to the marble hallways of our Capitol and courts—the moral rudder is broken. And in those places the work of Illinois Baptist churches is needed like never before.

Usually in this space we would publish a feature article based on one of the
Mission Illinois videos. Three of these stories were told in the special section in the July 29 issue of the Illinois Baptist, and they’re available online. These churches are taking on the responsibility to bring gospel light to dark places. But what we need to say this year is, like those churches, won’t you focus on our state mission field in a greater way?

Because of sacrificial giving by Baptists in Illinois each September, IBSA is able to help churches grow stronger in evangelism, leadership, and ministry impact. And IBSA helps start a dozen or more churches every year in places where there is little gospel witness. About 420 churches give about $350,000 each year. And IBSA is grateful for the partnership that supports camps and campus and next-gen ministry, church planting and leader development, and more.

But some potential impact of our work is lost, because fewer than half of IBSA churches support the Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer. This annual offering is just as vital to ministry in Illinois as the seasonal offerings for Lottie and Annie are to other SBC missions. And frankly, mission work in Illinois calls for sacrifice on our part.

If your church supports Mission Illinois with giving and prayer, thank you.

If it has been a while since your church had a focus on state missions, please consider the growing need for biblical truth in Illinois. Think about the role stronger churches and more churches would serve in establishing a beachhead against moral decline. A gift to the Mission Illinois Offering is one way to fortify Baptist presence and values in Illinois.

And if you will, please join the Week of Prayer. Illinois needs relentless intercessors right now.

Learn more about the Week of Prayer for the Mission Illinois Offering September 8-15.

A box of names

Lisa Misner —  August 12, 2019

The gospel reaches from jailhouse to church house

Stevens baptism by Sexton and Easter

Easter (far left), Sexton baptizes Stevens (far right).

Jared Sexton was pacing back and forth in his jail cell. “I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know why I keep doing this… I don’t even want to live this way. I know not to live this way. I keep doing it over and over and over and over again.’”

His cellmate handed him a King James Bible and told him, “You need to read Romans 7.” In the complex passage, Paul complains about committing sins that he hates. Sexton had a hard time understanding the Apostle’s words, but, “I was like, ‘OK, well this sounds exactly like what I was just saying.’” He wanted to know more.

He began drinking at a young age. “I was always in trouble, in and out of jail, and rehabs, boot camps, prison—I’ve been to every one of them….I was literally at a point where the only thing I could do is look to God.” That was the point when he found himself in a jail cell with four other inmates, one of whom had just returned from a Bible study of Romans 7.

When Sexton bonded out of jail, he went home and found a Contemporary English Version Bible someone had given him. “I read it and it just blew my mind…I read the Bible [before] and nothing ever clicked. This time was completely different. It was like everything was jumping out at me.

“For the first time in my life I took a real look at what sin meant in my life…I wanted to know more what that meant. And so, I knew the perfect place to go; that was church.”
Sexton went to Metropolis First Baptist Church where his boss is a member and his grandparents had taken him a few times as a child. There, Sexton met Cliff Easter, the church’s youth and missions pastor, and gave his life to Christ.

Metropolis First is deeply involved in evangelism and missions through local outreach ministries, international mission trips, and church planting mission trips to Chicago. Easter said, “It’s not complicated. It’s just, ‘Go, reach somebody.’ We’ve incorporated that into some of our discipleship training that we’ve just begun in our church.”

That’s my ‘one’
IBSA’s Pat Pajak led an evangelism training in the local association, as he does across the state, sharing the “Who’s Your One” evangelism concept in which members pray for the people they know to find salvation in Christ. Three times in the past two years, Pajak has urged churches to dedicate one Sunday or a month of Sundays to a baptism emphasis, and baptisms in Illinois increased almost 7% last year.

The Metropolis church keeps cards at the front of the auditorium for members to write the names of people who need Christ. The cards are an important part of the evangelism effort. “Every Wednesday night at our prayer meeting, we distribute every single one of those cards, and as a church we pray over them,” Easter said. “There are hundreds of names in the box.

“The idea is, if you put someone’s name on a card in the box, you’re praying for them, and you’re looking for opportunities to share the gospel with them.”

The first name Sexton put in the box was his childhood friend, Dakota Stevens. “We all began praying for Dakota,” Easter said. “You could tell that God was at work in him, and sure enough Dakota came to repentance and faith in Christ.”

“I don’t know when he put my name in there, or what date it was, but it obviously worked…. The power of prayer does work. It’ll move anything in front of you,” Stevens said.

Sexton, as a Christian and member in good standing at Metropolis First, had the privilege of baptizing his friend. “I came up out of the water… I was like, it’s a helping hand that he’s always had,” Stevens said. “He’s good about that. If he cares about you that man will help you no matter what.”

Sexton knows he is blessed to bless others to share the gospel, especially his old friends. “I’ll try to say some things related to the Word that are happening in my life. Whether it be with prayer, or a blessing God has shown me…I just pray…that something that they heard, something catches their attention that just breaks a little bit of the resistance away from them.”

Watch the 2019 MIO videos at MissionIllinois.org and also download mission studies.

MIO Slider

Ready, set, pray!

Promotion kits for the Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer were mailed to churches in late July and are arriving now. Consider bringing a promotion team together very soon to make gospel advance through Mission Illinois a priority in your church.

6 WEEKS AHEAD: PLANNING

  • Meet with missions and worship leaders to plan MIO promotion.
  • Download mission studies, announcements, promo materials.
  • Set a goal, perhaps 10% or more above last year’s collection.
  • Schedule a prayer event for state missions.
  • Schedule missions studies for children, teens, and adults.
  • Plan use of videos in worship services.
  • Request additional materials from IBSA.

4 WEEKS AHEAD: BEGIN PUBLICITY

  • Advertise in church newsletter and Sunday bulletin.
  • Post promo video on church website and Facebook page.
  • Place posters in prominent locations.

2 WEEKS AHEAD: SHOW THE MIO STORIES

  • Begin showing videos in worship services each week.
  • Push e-mail and Facebook announcements.
  • Send videos to church members, and link to Missionlllinois.org.
  • Pray for IBSA missions and missionaries in worship services.

THE WEEK OF MIO: PRAY AND GIVE

  • Give each worship attender a prayer guide and offering envelope.
  • Lead the missions studies, using the videos and/or the 4-page MIO newspaper.
  • Begin collecting the offering.
  • Pray for IBSA missionaries by name in worship services

EACH WEEK THROUGH SEPTEMBER

  • Pray for state missions in worship services.
  • Collect the offering until the goal is met.
  • Celebrate your church’s partnership in state missions.

Learn more about the Week of Prayer for the Missions Illinois Offering September 8-15.

– IBSA Media Team

Andre DobsonAt Calvary Baptist Church, people are learning to share their faith in simple ways. Through those witnesses, people are coming to faith in Christ.

It’s what Pastor André Dobson calls “connecting the dots”—Christians learn to share their faith, those who hear the gospel and respond are saved, and God grows his church through the ministry of his people. At Calvary, evangelism training has played a key role. The church’s recent training process was led by Larry Rhodes, an IBSA zone consultant supported in part by giving to the Mission Illinois Offering.

It’s not too late to gather the offering. Visit www.missionIllinois.org for downloadable resources.

Developed by Southern Baptist leaders, 3 Circles is a simple way to communicate the truths of the gospel within everyday conversations.

Rhodes led the training on a Sunday evening, and around 150 people showed up, Dobson said. Since then, the pastor has seen “aha moments” happening in his church—people who had been uncomfortable or inexperienced in sharing their faith now have the tools to do so readily.

“People are coming to Christ because our people have been engaged to witness, simply because somebody took the time to say, ‘Here’s how you can do this,’” he said.
In April, Calvary baptized nine people on One GRAND Sunday, a statewide baptism emphasis that resulted in more than 650 baptisms. They’ve also been focused on small groups ministry, Dobson said, and have been able to start new groups this year, with more in the works.

One of Calvary’s leaders recently trained his group members in 3 Circles and then took the gospel—and a group of ready witnesses—to a local assisted living facility. They connected the dots, Dobson said.

“They were able to see, ‘This is what I need to do. Here’s how I can share the news that’s so important to me with others.’”

Our journey together

Lisa Misner —  September 13, 2018

MIO Logo 500pxBy Nate Adams

I suppose the most self-indulgent car I’ve ever owned was one we purchased just after Beth and I were married. It was a sporty little Honda Prelude, with barely any back seat and just enough trunk space for the two of us.

Then, as our family grew, we found we needed cars with bigger back seats and more trunk space. The arrival of our third son pushed us into a mini-van, and longer trips even required a cartop carrier for all the stuff that tended to go with us. Last spring, with two daughters-in-law now in our family troupe, our family vacation required the rental of something called a “people mover,” with nine seats plus cargo space.

Yes, it costs more and more and takes extra effort for a growing family to travel together. But it’s worth it. Sure, things like your destination and everyone’s comfort are important. But just as important are the relationships that grow, and the experiences you share, as you travel together.

Our journey

That’s also how I feel about our journey and mission together as churches, here in Illinois. Sure, where we are going together is important: We want to reach people with the gospel, and to develop disciples and leaders who can help our churches grow, and start new churches, and go to the mission fields of the world.

But the relationship between and among churches and leaders is important too, and somewhat unique to state and local missions. Here we are close enough, not just to do missions together, but to grow together, and sometimes hurt together, as family.

State missions isn’t only about evangelism and church planting and training leaders, though we certainly invest a lot in those priorities. It’s also helping one another through pastoral transitions, or church conflict, or legal issues. It’s doing camps together. It’s planning mission trips or experiences for multiple leaders, or kids, or students, or churches, when one church can’t do that alone.

It’s answering the phone when a church has a need, and sometimes jumping in the car to bring some help or encouragement or resources. It’s celebrating big church anniversaries together, or the long tenure of a devoted pastor. Sometimes it’s crying together at a funeral.

When churches throughout a state decide not to travel alone, but to band together, and work together, and put a state staff and ministries in place, they are doing more than giving money to send missionaries, as important as that is. They are deciding to journey together in a shared mission field, and to do life together, for better or worse, in a way that isn’t really practical in North American missions or international missions.

I would never take anything away from the challenges that our sister, southern state conventions face. But I will say that when a few hundred Southern Baptist churches that average 75 in attendance take on a northern state like Illinois, with mammoth cities like Chicago and St. Louis, and with a population that is 175 times the total worship attendance of our churches, our journey together is a little more uphill than most.

But this is our mission field. This is where we journey together. It’s not always easy or comfortable. But it’s worth it.

This week, churches across our state will receive a special offering, the Mission Illinois Offering. It helps provide what we need for the journey together. Please consider a generous gift, through your church or through the IBSA.org website, if your church isn’t receiving the offering. Every year we travel together brings new challenges. But, for the sake of the lost here, and the glory of our God, our journey together is worth it.

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