Archives For Nate Adams

The power of one

ib2newseditor —  February 13, 2017

red leaves church steeple

This is a time of year when we at IBSA do a lot of evaluating, not only of our staff’s efforts, but also of the overall health dynamics of churches. An outstanding 95% of IBSA churches completed annual church profile reports for 2016, and this gives us a wealth of information to study.

Like every year, some churches thrived last year and others struggled, so it’s possible to overgeneralize. But looking at the broad stroke data for 964 churches and missions (up seven from the previous year), it’s reasonable to say that some ministry areas such as leadership development and Sunday School participation were up, while others such as church planting and missions giving were down, at least compared to the previous year.

Of all the “down” areas, though, none concern me more than our churches’ overall baptism number, which dropped more than 11% in 2016, to 3,953. The number of churches reporting zero baptisms increased by over 10%, to 352, meaning that more than a third of IBSA churches did not baptize anyone last year.

Just one voice, one commitment, one resolution of faith can turn things around.

A few days ago, one pastor asked me how things were going, and the first burden I found spilling out of my heart was the decline in church baptisms. He nodded his head in empathy and agreement. “I know we were down in our church last year,” he acknowledged.

But what he said next truly encouraged me. “So we are really getting after that this year. We have set a baptism goal, and we have evangelism training planned. But we also have set goals as a church for the number of gospel presentations we will make, and the number of spiritual conversations we will seek to have, believing that those will then lead to gospel presentations.”

He went on to tell me how each leader and church member was being challenged to look for these opportunities, and that they were reporting them through Sunday school classes and other ways.

That same week, a young pastor wrote me an e-mail, thanking me for how two of our IBSA staff members had specifically helped and encouraged his small church. He admitted that in the past he had questioned how much his church’s Cooperative Program giving helped struggling churches, compared with church plants. Now, in his first senior pastorate, he had experienced firsthand the practical ministry support that state staff provide. Others in his association felt the same, he said, and were planning to join him in increasing their Cooperative Program giving this next year.

What struck me about both these conversations, and both these pastors, was the positive power of one voice, one commitment. One pastor looked at a lower baptism number and said, “We will not be satisfied with that. Here’s what we’re going to do.” Another pastor took a fresh look at the value of cooperative missions giving and said, “We can do more.”

So often it just takes just one voice, one commitment, one resolution of faith to turn things around. I think of Noah, and David, and Elijah, and Nehemiah, and other Old Testament heroes. I think of Peter’s boldness and Paul’s resilience in the New Testament. And of course I think of Jesus, not only on the cross, but also in eternity past, saying to the Father, “This shall not stand. I will do what it takes to make this right.”

Today, each of those pastors is using his own power of one to lead and inspire his church to a better place, regardless of the past, or what happened last year. In doing so, they reminded me how much can change when one person simply refuses to accept the status quo.

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

Headline prayers

ib2newseditor —  May 30, 2016

Today’s headlines are driving me frequently to deeper and more desperate prayer. Many of us probably whisper something like “God help them” when we see a tragedy reported on the news. But I’m not primarily referring to headlines about a natural disaster, or a rare, heinous crime by an isolated, evil person. The headlines driving me to deeper prayer are those that reveal a declining morality in our culture that seems more and more widely accepted.

My main dose of these daily headlines usually comes in the early morning while I’m exercising in front of the TV. As I flip from one news channel to another, I more and more regularly see behaviors and lifestyles and decisions that would have been considered shameful or scandalous a generation ago. Now they are reported as progressive, or even normal. And the proud spokespeople for many of these decadent trends are interviewed by often adoring news anchors, as if they were the civil rights voices of today.

I often find myself asking “Help them, help us, help me.”

Unrestricted freedom of individual choice, preference, and expression seem to have become idols in American culture today. Just this past week, a story and its follow up interview so shocked and deflated me that I moaned out loud, “Oh God, help them!”

“Help them to see the deception they have bought into, and the damage they are doing, and the long-term consequences of the sinful lifestyle they are advocating, both to themselves and to others. Convict them of sin, God, and show them the same mercy and grace that you show me when you convict me of my sin.”

But as the disturbing interview went on, I also found my prayer deepening. “Yes, God, help them, but also help us! Your gospel had no voice in that headline, and your church had no spokesperson in that panel discussion. Interviewer and interviewee alike just presented that issue totally void of biblical perspective or truth. God, don’t let that happen! Don’t let millions of viewers gradually learn to accept that position as true and normative. Give your truth a voice through your people!”

The story passed, and I don’t know what was on the screen next, because my prayer was driven even deeper. “Yes God, help them, and help us. But oh God, help me too!  My voice is so silent. My life is so impotent. My efforts to carry the truth of your word and the power of your gospel are so weak. I’m going to go to the office in a few minutes to answer some e-mails, sit in some meetings, and move some projects along. But what will I have personally done to make any difference in the cultural decline I have just witnessed?”

My feeling of powerlessness was frustrating. And that frustration made me angry. I found myself wanting to pray for God’s righteous judgment to simply fall upon these people, and upon our land if necessary, and make it all right again.

But I’ve learned to be careful, even fearful, about calling for God’s judgment. I am too often deserving of it myself. And when I was most deserving of it, when I was still a sinner by lifestyle and choice, when I was just as far from God as the frustrating people in the headlines, that’s when God in Christ reached out to me in mercy, and with conviction and grace and forgiveness. And he still does that today.

So I am meeting the morning headlines these days with these three prayers: God, help them. Help us. Help me. I invite you to join me in these prayers.

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

My history attending the annual Southern Baptist Convention is not as long or as deep as many. Occasionally I meet someone who will tell me, “This is my 40th SBC,” or “I haven’t missed a convention in 25 years.”

Though my father was a pastor and then director of missions, I didn’t attend my first SBC until 1992. That year the convention came to Indianapolis, as close as it had been in many years to the Chicago suburbs where we lived. A friend from church suggested going, “because it’s rarely so close.” Indeed, the SBC would not come within 500 miles of Chicago for another 10 years. So we went and took my dad along with us.

Little did I know that only five years later I would be flying to only my second SBC in Dallas, to be voted on as a vice president with the newly formed North American Mission Board. I haven’t missed an annual SBC meeting since then. This year, Lord willing, will be 20 in a row.

If you haven’t been to the convention before, or can’t go often, this is the year.

I share this personal history to say that I really do understand why the average person may not regularly attend the annual SBC. Unless there’s a controversy or crisis of some kind, the SBC is often left primarily to professionals who have travel budgets, and pastors who may direct part of their family vacation time there. Perhaps that’s why attendance at the SBC has only topped 10,000 three times in the last 15 years. Peak attendance during the conservative resurgence of the mid-1980’s was over 40,000.

But now, let me challenge you to attend the June 14-15 SBC in St. Louis this year. As my friend said, it will be years before it’s this close to Illinois churches again. If you haven’t been before, or can’t go often, this is the year.

More importantly, this year’s elections and other actions will be significant. It was announced just last week that Illinois’ own Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist, O’Fallon, will be nominated as First Vice President. I’m really excited about that. I hope hundreds and hundreds of Illinois Baptists will be there to support this outstanding Illinois pastor for this national role.

The election for president this year also presents a significant choice between pastors with notable differences, not just in ministry experience, but in the areas of doctrinal conviction and missions cooperation. Illinois messengers will want to study these in advance of the convention, and arrive prepared to support the nominee who best represents not only their own churches’ practices and convictions, but also the direction that they feel is best for our Great Commission cooperation as Baptist churches in the future.

Normally Illinois ranks about 15th of 42 state conventions in the number of messengers it sends to the national SBC. But the last time the convention was in St. Louis (2002), Illinois ranked 5th, with 611 messengers from 193 churches. And in 1987, the previous time the SBC was in St. Louis, Illinois churches sent 1,373 messengers. Yet last year only 139 messengers from Illinois churches attended the SBC in nearby Columbus.

To encourage messengers to turn out in record numbers this year, IBSA will be hosting a reception for Illinois Baptists at the St. Louis convention center, on the Monday night following the Pastors’ Conference and just prior to the convention’s start on Tuesday morning.

Whether this year is your 40th SBC, or your very first, I hope you will make the SBC in nearby St. Louis a priority this year. What happens at the SBC is really up to folks like you and me.

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

Top 10

“I feel like in some ways, after 10 years, I’m just figuring things out,” Nate Adams told the Illinois Baptist State Association Board of Directors last month during a celebration of his service as executive director.

Adams offered some reflection on IBSA’s victories over the last ten years, and a few challenges ahead, all in the form of a “top ten list.”

10. Goals and measurements. IBSA now has a consistent, annual pattern of evaluating churches’ needs (surveys), measuring churches’ progress (ACP), setting focused, organizational goals, and measuring effectiveness through multiple, strategic metrics. Our goals are based on facts and feedback, not programs or preferences. Everything from annual budgets to the Annual Meeting theme are driven by purpose and strategy.

9. Strong church participation. Over the past 10 years, IBSA churches baptized 49,584 people and planted 242 new churches. Mission trip participation is up 23% to more than 24,000. Nearly $90 million was given to missions, including more than $64 million through the Cooperative Program (CP). This growth in church participation is in spite of fewer total churches and members.

8. Financial frugality, stability, and health. Over the past 10 years, annual income over expense has averaged $395,000 or around 5% (in 2006 it was $36,608). IBSA’s Cooperative Agreement with the Baptist Foundation of Illinois (BFI) has helped it to grow and for the CP subsidy of BFI to be reduced from a peak of $153,000 to $35,000 in the 2016 IBSA budget.

While 2015 CP giving was $411,000 less than 2009 and NAMB revenue was $252,000 less, IBSA has avoided involuntary lay-offs, and modest compensation increases have been possible each year.

7. Updated and renewed facilities. In 2012, IBSA completed a $1.9-million renovation of its Springfield building and grounds, debt-free and on schedule. The building now hosts groups of up to 250. In 2014, Lake Sallateeska expanded and renovated its dining hall and two other buildings.

6. Staff efficiency and strength. IBSA has trimmed, restructured, and right-sized its staff to adjust to available resources, increased personnel costs, and the evolving needs of churches. Part-time zone consultants are the most notable example. Today, the IBSA staff is not only more diverse, but far more field-based and closer to churches than it was 10 years ago.

5. Effective change management. IBSA has weathered significant economic and social change, from the secular culture, to the national SBC, to local associations and churches themselves. Many organizations and state conventions in particular have had traumatic adjustments to these changes. By acting early, budgeting conservatively, and an “elastic” restructuring, IBSA has for the most part been able to manage a gradual altitude adjustment with minimal negative consequences to IBSA churches. Changes at both the national SBC and local association level present IBSA with new opportunities and challenges for the future.

Those are the victories of the past 10 years. Now the challenges ahead:

4. IBSA churches’ relatively low net impact on lostness in Illinois. While 242 churches have been planted, the net IBSA congregation count has dropped from 1,032 to 957. IBSA churches baptized 4,400 in 2015, yet dropped 3,352 in Sunday School attendance.

3. Reversing health and growth trends among churches. Annual baptisms are down 18% from the 2009 level. Overall worship attendance is now basically the same in 2016 as 2006, though it rose as much as 9.3% (in 2008). Overall Sunday school attendance in 2016 was 17.4% lower than in 2006.

2. Rekindling the passion and renewing the power of cooperation. Some younger leaders and those without Baptist backgrounds do not always understand or buy in to the cooperative missions model. After dropping to 6.8% in 2013 and 2014, the CP giving percentage rebounded to 7.1% in 2015. Nationally, the average is 5.5%. “Engagement” is key for IBSA’s future.

1. Raising the bar of leadership. Most of the challenges and problems with which IBSA churches struggle are rooted in leadership issues. As the 2015 Midwest Leadership Summit and 2016 Illinois Leadership Summit demonstrated, there is a hunger for leadership development among IBSA churches and leaders.

Lessons from Tom Adams

ib2newseditor —  March 31, 2016
Tom Adams

Tom Adams

It still surprises and moves me that so many people in Illinois Baptist churches fondly remember my father Tom Adams, or at least his writing. Dad entered his eternal life with the Lord ten years ago, just one month after I began my role here as IBSA’s executive director. Yet more often than not when I visit a church, one or more of its members will tell me how much my dad or his writing meant to them.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for one of those older church members to reach into their Bible and pull out a yellowed clipping of one of his columns because it met a particular, deep need in their lives. Dad wrote for the Illinois Baptist for 34 years, through columns such as “Problem Corner,” or “Ask Tom Adams.” So he became a sort of corresponding counselor to many.

Frankly, I thought I would have my dad’s counsel for a few more years here in Illinois.  Instead I have needed to rely on the years I had to observe him as father, pastor, and associational leader. With his memory in my heart, here are some of the lessons I learned from Tom Adams.

1. Writing broadens and lengthens influence.
Dad never pastored a large church, nor held a position of great stature. But because he wrote down carefully considered thoughts at least every couple of weeks for decades, he touched tens of thousands of people he wouldn’t have otherwise.

2. Few words can be more impactful than many words.
Dad was a man of few words interpersonally, and the format of his columns gave him only a little room to express an opinion or idea in writing. But he demonstrated both in speech and writing that a few, carefully considered words can have great impact. Apparently they also fit better in your Bible.

3. Readers are better leaders.
My dad would be the first to admit that his wisdom didn’t come from his own deep intellect or extensive formal education. But he was one of the more widely read men I have ever known. Just ask my mom, whose house is still filled with an incredible variety of books, even after giving many away. I’ve never been the avid reader my dad was. But I’ve rarely gone in to a serious meeting or problem without doing my homework.

4. Face your fears with faith.
I didn’t know it until years later, but my dad was scared to death to move our family from Southern Illinois to the Chicago area. My mom tells me he became physically ill over the decision to follow God’s call there. What was very hard for him became very good for me, and in their own ways for the rest of our family. For reasons I can’t go into here, I doubt very much if I would be at IBSA today if he hadn’t made that move when I was fourteen. But his example helps me face my fears with faith, even today.

5. Invest fully where you are.
Dad was never a self-promoter, or a ladder-climber. I know he dreamed of another position or two in his life, but he always chose to invest fully where he was called, until God through others beckoned him elsewhere. Me too.

I jotted down some other lessons I learned from Tom Adams: Do what you know is right, and trust God with the consequences. Marry well and let your spouse be herself.  How you say something can be just as important as what you say.  Some burdens are best borne privately.  Leaders come in all personality types.

A few years ago my mom and I helped my dad organize some of his Illinois Baptist columns into a book, titled after one of his columns, “Speaking Out.” If you don’t have a copy and will write me, I will be glad to send you one. He would be pleased for you to have it.  And I will be pleased for his influence to touch your life, as it deeply has mine.

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

Eleven Portraits

Lisa Sergent —  March 7, 2016

Eleven_portraits

In some ways I’m just getting started and just beginning to figure some things out.

Visitors to the IBSA office building in Springfield sometimes take note of eleven portraits displayed there, acknowledging the men who have served IBSA as executive director since its formation in 1907. Those portraits used to hang in the entrance lobby, and since our building renovation a few years ago they have been on display in our first floor Resource Room.

While it’s hard for me to believe, by God’s grace I have just celebrated 10 years in that executive director role. That milestone recently led me to a few reflective moments in front of those portraits. Four of those men are simply historical figures to me, but I’ve had the privilege of meeting the other six personally. They each served in different times and faced different challenges, but together they form the legacy of leadership on which I now gratefully stand.

I’ve been told by others around the Southern Baptist Convention that 10 years seems to be about the typical length of service in the state executive director role. Since years of service are noted on a little plaque beneath each of the IBSA portraits, I did the math and learned that indeed the average term of service here in Illinois has been just over nine years.

There are, however, two distinct groups of IBSA executive directors among my 10 predecessors. Six men served less than seven years, and four served 12 or more. The smaller, longer-serving group were four of the first five executive directors, all of whom completed their service by the 1970s. The larger, shorter-serving group represent the more current trend. And at 10 years’ service, I now stand in the middle.

There are many reasons why leaders stay in roles for a short time, including some which are beyond their control. So I wouldn’t second guess the Lord’s leadership or providence in any of the shorter terms of service. But after investing 10 years here at IBSA, I have a new appreciation for the men in the longer term group.

It takes time to establish relationships, and to build trust. It takes time to learn the many systems and traditions and landmines inherent in a thousand diverse churches working together. It takes time to learn the regional and ethnic and generational uniqueness of churches and their leaders. It takes time to take necessary risks and make unavoidable mistakes, and then to recover and learn from them. And I’m now discovering that it takes time to do it all again and again, as new pastors and leaders come on the scene.

After 10 years, I feel in some ways I’m just getting started and just beginning to figure some things out. Yet by the law of averages I’ve already had as many years as most executive directors ever get. It makes me admire the men who stayed 12, or 17, or 19 years.

And it makes me want to sprint right past this 10-year mark and see what might be possible in the company of these long-tenured men that preceded me.

It’s certainly possible to overstay your welcome, or to outstay your effectiveness. And it’s always best when a leader can recognize that time long before anyone else does. But for the most part, it can be very good for an organization and its mission when a leader finds favor and stays.

So if you are wondering whether to stay and persevere where you are, let me encourage you to do so if at all possible. One day you will take your place among the portraits of former leaders in your place of service. It may be less and less common for leaders to stay long in one place. But if God gives you grace and favor to do so, I believe you will find a unique influence that only comes with time.

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

In the Middle

Lisa Sergent —  September 21, 2015

HEARTLAND| Nate Adams

I am reminded lately of the song “Stuck in the Middle with You.” The song was written by Gerry Rafferty and Joe Eagan, and recorded by their band, Stealers Wheel, in 1972. The song was inspired when Rafferty and Egan were seated at a restaurant table with record company representatives on one side of them and producers on the other. The executives were talking across them, conducting business, and the singers were “stuck in the middle.”

Neither the IBSA staff and missionaries nor I feel “stuck” in any sense of the word, but I do feel we’re in the middle of something. As a middle-sized state convention here in the middle of the country, and now in the middle of a funding challenge, we are also in the middle of some crucial questions about how we do ministry, how we advance the gospel, and how we sustain our shared work financially.

Nate Adams

In the previous issue of the Illinois Baptist, I outlined reasons that inspire me personally to give through my church to the Mission Illinois Offering each year. (See IBSA.org/MIO.)

I unapologetically ask IBSA churches to receive an annual offering for state missions. But there are some additional dynamics that make the Mission Illinois Offering even more important this year.

For one thing, Cooperative Program giving in Illinois, the primary funding source of our missions and ministries, has not yet rebounded from what’s now called “The Great Recession” of 2007-2009. Yet expenses, especially “people costs” such as healthcare and travel, continue to rise. For example, IBSA’s healthcare premiums will increase 20% next year, or almost $65,000. Yet CP income planned in the 2016 IBSA budget is actually $340,000 less than we received in 2009.

Compounding the CP shortfall is a strategic shift by our partners at the North American Mission Board to focus almost exclusively on church planting in larger cities. Of course church planting is a top priority for us in Illinois too. But now funding for staff and ministries such as WMU and women’s ministries, collegiate ministry, IBSA’s church consultants and partnership with local Associations, and soon our funding of the Christian Activity Center in East St. Louis, must come 100% from the IBSA budget, rather than being shared by both NAMB and IBSA.

We appreciate the partnership NAMB provides for church planting, especially in Chicago and metro St. Louis. But we must ask how other Illinois ministries can continue to be funded. The Mission Illinois Offering is the single most important factor in answering that question.

Over the past five years, larger state conventions have downsized by a third or more. Smaller state conventions who are much more dependent on NAMB funding have needed to focus their attention more exclusively on church planting, often at the expense of assisting existing churches.

While we in Illinois have also downsized and economized, we’ve done so gradually, without layoffs or major loss of services or ministries. In a sense, we benefit from being “medium-sized,” with enough resources to be somewhat self-sufficient, and yet not so many institutional obligations that limit our options for trimming budgets.

You and your church can help through generous participation in the Mission Illinois Offering. If your church does not collect the Mission Illinois Offering, you can contribute directly. Visit www.IBSA.org and click on the “donate” tab. Or mail your gift labeled “MIO” directly to IBSA at 3085 Stevenson Dr., Springfield, IL 62703.

And for the record, there’s still no place in the world I’d rather be than here in the middle with you.

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