Archives For Missions

By Eric Reed

Illinois Exodus

Hard times hit the publishing industry in the early 2000’s. The president of Christianity Today International, for whom I worked at the time, called the confluence of 9/11, falling ad sales, and the rise of the internet “whitewater.” Apparently he enjoyed rafting, but he knew the river crashing against the rocks as placid waters turned swift was a dangerous situation, even for adventurous souls. He talked often about “whitewater” for several years. He told us to hold on tight.

We did.

It wasn’t easy. In the end, the organization was leaner, but publishers who survived met the crisis with creativity and invention. And the gospel mission was advanced.

I thought of that while reading an article on “the Illinois Exodus.” In it, a Chicagoland pastor used the same term to describe these tremulous times in our state. “I suspect we’re headed into some whitewater,” said Mike Woodruff. “The waves are going to knock us around a bit. But our foundations are strong.”

Woodruff was quoted by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra at The Gospel Coalition. She asked about the future of Illinois in light of declining population and growing debt. More specifically, she questioned the impact of the resulting exodus on churches.

Some 45,000 people left Illinois in 2018, a trend mirrored in equally high-tax states California and New Jersey. In Illinois, the mounting debt is due in large part to retirement promises—and the financial obligation to cover them—which now equals about $50,800 per household.

Sound off

“What worries me is that I think most Illinois churches are unprepared for what will happen—i.e., in an effort to meet pension obligations, legislators will raise taxes and reduce social programming, which will likely shift the safety net to churches…”
– Mike Woodruff, Chicagoland pastor

“…For several generations, pastors have not seen these issues as something they need to know anything about, so now they’re unable to do much because they don’t know anything….We need to play catch-up and fast.”
– Greg Forster, Trinity International University, Deerfield

How will that affect our ministries? The first answer is obvious: population decline. Especially in troubled neighborhoods and dwindling rural communities, the loss of people hurts. As young people leave to find jobs and older people leave when they retire, the church loses reliable attenders, servants, and givers, and to some extent its future.

But beyond population loss, what happens when the politicians try to adjust the budget to cover the bills? The pastors Zylstra interviewed pointed to a different problem: efforts to cover the gaps could result in loss of services in failing communities, and increases the probability that local churches will be called upon to make up the difference for people in need.

Such a likelihood causes me to ask, Are we prepared? Evangelicals today say we are interested in social issues and in being the hands of Jesus for our community. That commitment will be tested in time and money. “There will be opportunity for pastors to lead well and offer hope,” Woodruff said. “Don’t build barriers and retreat inside and just take care of your own.”

Who imagined a call to local and state missions would be driven by the state’s financial and demographic crunch, but if that’s what it takes to spur the church to a new era of action, so be it.

What’s trending in 2019

Lisa Misner —  January 16, 2019

Key issues in culture

IB Media Team Report

Gaining ground on old divides
The last few years have seen an increase in the number of public conversations Baptists are having about race. Sparked in large part by shootings of unarmed black men by law enforcement, churches have been confronted by an urgent question: How does the Bible call us to respond, both in the short-term and going forward?

In 2018, several state conventions answered by adopting resolutions on racial harmony. Missouri Baptists denounced the 1857 Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined a freed slave was not an American citizen. In Charleston, S.C., South Carolina Baptists held one session of their annual meeting in the African-American church where nine people were killed by a self-proclaimed white supremacist in 2015. The meeting’s theme, “Building Bridges,” spoke to the convention’s commitment to healing racial divides.

In Illinois, IBSA President Adron Robinson urged Baptists in the state to overcome “growing pains” and feelings of superiority that can result in division. “Salvation has never been about race,” he preached, “but it’s always been about grace.”

Especially in the Southern Baptist Convention, conversations around race tend to land on leadership. Are SBC committees and trustee boards truly representative of the entire SBC family, when recent estimates show about one-fifth of SBC churches have non-Anglo majority memberships?

SBC leadership made an effort last year to increase minority representation on boards and committees. Another key area to watch in 2019: the filling of presidential vacancies at four Southern Baptist entities.

Debate raises larger questions
At face value, “social justice” doesn’t read like a particularly controversial term. It can ruffle feathers in church life, though, especially when connected to a social gospel that downplays repentance.

After the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission convened an April conference commemorating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., some Baptists expressed their opposition to social justice causes they said could water down the gospel. After that, well-known non-Southern Baptist John MacArthur and other leaders released a statement expressing concern “that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”

Baptist reaction to the statement was mixed. With race and gender poised to remain key areas of challenge for the forseeable future, the opportunity for churches is to dive deep into a difficult question: How do we stay biblically faithful and still engage our community, and the larger culture?

Faith in peril
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world, according to watchdog group Open Doors. On average, 255 are killed every month, 160 are imprisoned, 104 are abducted, and 66 churches are attacked.

In 2018, more Christians were displaced by violence in Nigeria. In China, the government intensified its crackdown on churches. American awareness of persecution was heightened by the murder of John Allen Chau, a young missionary killed while trying to share the gospel on North Sentinel Island.

Chau’s death sparked a variety of responses among Christians regarding evangelism and appropriate missiology. While his approach was debated, his commitment to take the gospel to a difficult place served as a reminder of the call to pierce darkness with the light of Christ.

In letters before their arrests in early December, Chinese church leaders Li Yingqiang and Wang Yi encouraged their church to remember the words of Paul and rejoice in the midst of persecution, and not to count it strange. The letters also assured the church that “civil disobedience” is acceptable in order to “never stop testifying to the world about Christ.”

Their words, and Chau’s example, challenge American Christians to pray for the persecuted and to take a new look at their own calling in Christ.

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.

Gallup poll finds low expectations for global peace
70% of Americans expect 2019 to be “a troubled year with much international discord,” according to Gallup data collected in December. Hopes are higher for economic prosperity and employment, but the nation’s political system received a gloomy forecast from many respondents. 89% predicted a year of conflict, while only 11% foresaw a year of cooperation.

Bible app gets 1 million subscriptions on New Year’s Day
The YouVersion Bible app’s Bible-reading plans got more than one million new subscriptions to start the new year, The Christian Post reported. The app offers more than 13,000 reading plans, including some offered in 1,000 languages other than English.

Greear launches evangelism emphasis with local associations
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear will work with local associations of Southern Baptist churches to implement a focus on personal evangelism in 2019. “Who’s Your One?” is an initiative to encourage every Southern Baptist to share the gospel with one person this year. Greear will introduce the emphasis to his own local association—Yates Baptist Association—at a Jan. 31 simulcast available to associations across the country. More information is forthcoming at sbcassociations.org.

Third gender option legal in New York City, California
The nation’s most populous city and state now allow people to choose a “third gender,” often designated by X on legal documents. New York City and California join Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington State, and Washington, D.C., as places that allow a non-binary gender option for people who believe they are neither male nor female.

Passion attenders raise money for deaf Bible translations
Young people at this year’s Passion conference gave $450,000 toward translating New Testament stories in sign languages used in 16 countries. The Deaf Bible Society reports only 2% of deaf people around the world have been introduced to the gospel, and that there is no Bible translation for at least 95% of more than 400 unique sign languages used globally.

Fools for Christ, not foolish

Lisa Misner —  December 13, 2018

By Andrew Woodrow

The death of missionary John Allen Chau has sparked arguments among Christians. Some call the young man impulsive, while others admire his commitment to reach unreached people with the gospel. Many are comparing Chau to another missionary killed in South America more than 60 years ago.

On Nov. 17, Chau was reportedly struck and killed by arrows from a Sentinelese tribe living on a remote island off the Bay of Bengal. Born in Washington state, he had been intrigued by the tribe since his teenage years. He chose his college degree to prepare him for his mission. He underwent linguistic training, participated in global missions, refrained from romantic relationships, and later joined the mission-sending agency All Nations.

After arriving in the region in early November, Chau paid fishermen to take him on trips where he attempted to befriend the Sentinelese with gifts, songs, and declarations of Jesus’s love. Chau wrote of his fear in returning to the island for his third visit (and his first overnight one), but reassured himself that the tribe’s eternal lives mattered more. The next morning, when Chau’s companions sailed near the island, they saw his body being dragged on the beach.

For its striking similarity, Chau’s death has been compared to that of five missionary martyrs in 1956, among them the well-known Jim Elliot. Elliot also devoted his early years to preparing for missions. He and his team sought to evangelize the Huaorani tribespeople in Ecuador. They were killed by warriors’ arrows soon after first contact. Elliot journaled extensively of his desire to reach the lost tribe, and his work was continued successfully after his death by his wife, Elisabeth.

But Jim Elliot was celebrated, while Chau has been criticized.

Wheaton College’s Ed Stetzer said he imagines Elliot would receive very different treatment today. “People are much more negative about missions, partly because of mistakes missionaries have made, such as colonialism, a lack of cultural awareness, and more.”

But, “As Elliot wrote (and Chau experienced), ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,’” Stetzer wrote. “Here at Elliot’s alma mater, we still believe and train missionaries. To some, that makes us the fools. But…if that makes us fools, we will be ‘fools for Christ.’”

– IBSA’s Andrew Woodrow was a missionary kid, living with his family in Mozambique

Puerto Rico Convention’s annual meeting highlights new churches
Southern Baptists in Puerto Rico celebrated nine new churches gained in the year since Hurricane Maria at their annual meeting in November. The meeting of the Convención de Iglesias Bautistas del Sur de Puerto Rico (Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico) was the first since 2016. Last year, Hurricane Maria and its aftermath cut church attendance in Puerto Rico by one-third, Baptist Press reported.

With the new churches, there are now about 80 Southern Baptist congregations in Puerto Rico. Illinois Baptists will work with church planters in the U.S. territory through two mission trips planned for 2019.

SBC President issues Lottie Moon challenge
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear pledged to perform a stunt if the 2018 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions reaches $170 million. So far, suggestions on social media include wearing a mullet at the 2019 SBC annual meeting, or arm wrestling newly elected International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood.

At Liberty University, First Lady addresses opioid crisis
First Lady Melania Trump spoke at Liberty University in Virginia Nov. 28 about the country’s opioid crisis. “I know college is a time to build your independence, experience things on your own terms and make decisions on your own behalf,” Trump told students at the Baptist university. “I am here to remind you that some of those decisions, though they may seem minor at the time, could negatively impact you for the rest of your lives.”

Chau assisted by American evangelicals, officials say
New details have emerged in the death of John Allen Chau, the missionary who died last month while trying to share the gospel with people on North Sentinel island in the Bay of Bengal. The Christian Post reports Indian police now say they believe two American evangelicals helped Chau reach the island, where he is believed to have been shot to death by arrows Nov. 17.

Majority of Protestant churchgoers don’t drink, but the number who do is rising
LifeWay Research found 41% of Protestant churchgoers drink alcohol, up from 39% in 2007. And while the vast majority say the Bible teaches against drunkenness, more than half also say Scripture indicates all beverages, including alcohol, can be consumed without sin.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, LifeWay Research

Resolution calls for eradication of racism
At their annual meeting this month, the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention approved a resolution denouncing the 1857 Supreme Court ruling that Dred Scott, a slave living in a free state, was not an American citizen and therefore couldn’t file suit in a court of law. (Scott was appealing to the court for his freedom.)

The resolution at the Missouri Baptist Convention meeting called on the state’s legislature to denounce the ruling and urged “our churches to continue to reach out to all persons regardless of ethnicity showing mercy to all for whom Christ died, and look forward to the day that we will gather as a diverse assembly in heaven.”

Related: At the Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association, IBSA President Adron Robinson called for an end to divisions in the church. Watch his message here.

Chitwood unanimously elected to lead IMB
New International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood said Southern Baptists’ global missions force can grow in number again, but it will require “greater generosity and a greater willingness to sacrifice.”

ERLC, other religious agencies oppose tax law
Opponents to a provision in federal tax laws say it “will hopelessly entangle the [Internal Revenue Service] with houses of worship.” Plus, churches will face a 21% tax on employee benefits like parking and transportation.

Offerings up in 2018, pastors say
A new LifeWay Research survey found 42% of Protestant pastors say their church’s offerings are up over the previous year, and 45% say the current economy is positively impacting their church.

‘An opportunity to be human’: Seminary training transforms life in prison
Religion News Service reports on Christian education programs inside prisons, and how they’re training students to be “field ministers” to fellow inmates.

Sources: The Pathway, Baptist Press (2), LifeWay Research, Religion News Service