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Rest and peace

Lisa Misner —  November 19, 2018

Effective ministry

By Nate Adams

The weeks leading up to and including our IBSA Annual Meeting are probably the busiest and most demanding of the year for me. I’m always relieved when it’s all over, and very ready to head home for some rest and peace. This year, however, I drove directly from that fun and challenging meeting to the funeral visitation for a relatively young pastor.

Driving home afterward, both the stress of the day and sorrow of the evening collided in my thoughts and emotions. I had just challenged hundreds of pastors and church leaders to a “pioneering spirit” that would go new places, engage new people, make new sacrifices, and develop new leaders. This wonderful pastor had been engaged in all those—church planting, evangelism, missions giving, and preparing tomorrow’s missionaries and pastors.

Yet I had just looked into the eyes of his grieving family and friends. And I knew him and his situation well enough to know that health and stress factors played a role in the timing of his life’s end. I found myself wondering if I shouldn’t personally invest as much time encouraging pastors and leaders to guard their health and prioritize their family as I invest challenging them to do more in ministry.

Effective ministry over the long haul requires that we take care of ourselves.

So, as the holidays approach again this year, a time when pastors and leaders are especially vulnerable to stress, exhaustion, and even depression, let me remind us that effective ministry over the long haul requires that we take care of ourselves, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Here are four ways pastors and leaders can do that.

First, we can believe God’s Word and ask him, directly in prayer, to guard our hearts and minds with his peace. The Bible says quite plainly in Philippians 4, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Second, we can take care of ourselves physically. No matter how much we feel has to be done, no matter how many demanding people are in our lives, there is always time for rest, for exercise, and for recreation.

Third, we can watch out for one another. Sensitive leaders in congregations can watch for signs of stress or poor health or depression in their pastor and come alongside to help. Pastors can check in on other pastors. Regular accountability meetings with another trusted leader are a great way to keep your health from spiraling downward.

And finally, many pastors could benefit from meeting with a trained counselor. Our friends at Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services now offer six free counseling sessions for both pastors and pastors’ wives, through their Pathway Counseling ministry.

These licensed, Christian professionals will listen and help you work through personal concerns and a plan for the future, all from a place of grace and confidentiality. Counseling is available at a dozen different locations across Illinois, and can begin with a simple phone call to (618) 382-3907.

Some of the most comforting words Jesus ever uttered are recorded at the end of Matthew 11 when he said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Ministry is challenging, and being a pastor or church leader can be stressful, even depressing, if you make the mistake of trying to carry its burdens alone. As you enter this busy holiday season, may you also find the rest and the peace you need to pioneer for the long haul.

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

By John Carruthers

October is Pastor Appreciation Month

Some church members looking at the calendar saw Groundhog Day coming up and asked themselves, “If a groundhog can have its own day, shouldn’t our pastors?” So they started Pastor Appreciation Day in 1992. Since then, the day has grown to an entire month of celebration—not in February, but in October.

While churches may recognize their pastors in many different ways, the thing many pastors say they would appreciate is simply to pray for them.

During the month of October, the IBSA staff will lift up nearly 1,000 pastors and congregations in prayer, both individually and as a group. Pastors are welcome to share specific prayer requests at https://bit.ly/2PBcR9U, or by calling IBSA Church Relationships Manager John Carruthers at (217) 391-3110.

Based on recent interviews with IBSA pastors, here are five ways churches can support their pastor(s) in prayer.

1. Pray for wisdom. These men are confronted everyday with many decisions and they desire clarity from the Lord. Pray for God to supply them with his wisdom.
Proverbs 3:5-6

2. Pray for protection. Temptations and attacks come from many different angles and are continuous. Pray for God to protect the pastor from the enemy. I Peter 5:8

3. Pray for his family. Isolation, attacks, and bullying are very common for a pastor’s family to deal with. Pray protection around his family to avoid the fiery snares. Proverbs 12:22

4. Pray for financial pressures. Many pastors are underpaid and some live below the poverty level. They continue to serve joyfully through financial stress. Pray for God to provide not only basic needs but additional resources to provide for times of celebration and comfort. Philippians 4:19

5. Pray for gospel opportunities. Being a pastor can open up gospel conversations, or sometimes it can shut them down. Pray for the pastor to have friendships with unbelievers, and to have opportunity to share the gospel this week. Psalm 105:1

John Carruthers is IBSA’s Church Relationships Manager

Petition aims for Billy Graham holiday
A North Carolina man has garnered more than 115,000 signatures to an online petition effort to name a holiday in honor of evangelist Billy Graham. Kyle Siler addressed his Change.org petition to President Donald Trump and other lawmakers, noting that Graham, who died Feb. 21, “preached the gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history.”

Mississippi poised to enact nation’s earliest abortion ban
Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to sign legislation approving a ban on abortions in Mississippi after 15 weeks gestation. The ban would be the earliest in the U.S., lowering the state’s current ban by five weeks.

Pastors challenge housing allowance ruling
A group of pastors and religious leaders have filed an appeal to protect the minister’s housing allowance, which was declared unconstitutional last year. Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled last year that the housing allowance violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause—which bans government-established religion.

Mohler answers ‘ask anything’ questions on campuses
Southern Seminary President Al Mohler’s dialogue with university students is based on two overarching questions: Does God exist?, and Does he speak? “If I didn’t have that assurance, I wouldn’t dare stand up in front of an audience…to talk about how we can ask and answer the biggest questions of life,” Mohler said at UCLA during the second stop on his Ask Anything Tour of college campuses.

MLB team hosts anti-porn seminar
The Kansas City Royals took a break from on-the-field spring training to hear from Fight the New Drug, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the harmful effects of pornography.

The 8 people Americans trust more than their pastor
Less than half of the country—just two out of every five Americans—believe clergy are honest and have high ethical standards, a recent Gallup poll found. Pastors are now seen as less trustworthy than judges (43%), day care providers (46%), police officers (56%), pharmacists (62%), medical doctors (65%), grade school teachers (66%), military officers (71%), and nurses (82%).

The new pro-life generation
High-school students are organizing and engaging in the fight for life, despite sharp opposition from some administrators and peers. Many are members of Students for Life of America, best known for its work with college students, which now has 604 high-school chapters—334 at religiously affiliated schools and 270 at public campuses.

Churches can now get direct FEMA funding after disasters
Houses of worship damaged during natural disasters will be able to rebuild using federal funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Trump administration announced, a shift traditional faith groups have been requesting from presidents for decades without success.

Ancient DNA said to support Bible’s Babel account
A study published Jan. 3 in the journal Nature claims DNA extracted from the remains of an infant girl buried in central Alaska suggests an ancient migration of people from East Asia, across a frozen land bridge, to North America. Nathaniel Jeanson, a Harvard-trained research biologist with Answers in Genesis (AiG), said some details of the find corroborate the account in Genesis 11 of mass human migration following attempted construction of the Tower of Babel.

The salvation of ‘Napalm Girl’
Kim Phuc Phan Thi was the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph during the Vietnam War in 1972 where she was pictured at age 9, running along a puddled roadway with arms outstretched, naked and screaming, with the dark contour of a napalm cloud billowing in the distance. Kim writes how she came to faith in Christ.

Sources: Christianity Today, World Magazine, Washington Post, Baptist Press, and Wall Street Journal

Pastor Curtis Gilbert

“If they (your church) keep putting a cape on you, and you keep letting them, then you need to be rebuked. Because you are nobody’s Superman.”
– Pastor Curtis Gilbert on how a pastor needs his people as much as they need him.

Ministry can be chaotic, said Belleville pastor Curtis Gilbert. In fact, it definitely will be. What pastors are called to is not a calling of ease or of superficial comfort, Gilbert told leaders at the 2017 IBSA Pastors’ Conference, but one that will call everything out of you.

The pastor of The Journey’s Metro East campus opened the conference with an encouragement to pastors to acknowledge the chaos, and to assess their lives and ministries in four key ways described by the apostle Paul in Titus 1:5-9. The Scripture passage was the foundation for the conference and its theme, “Time for a Check-Up.”

Gilbert urged pastors to evaluate their own love for Jesus, for the gospel, for their family, and for God’s people.

“Even the sheep that bite you are precious souls,” Gilbert said, adding that pastors can become arrogant and impatient when they stop viewing church members as God’s children, and when they forget that they themselves are every bit as much a sinner as their people. Don’t delegate all the shepherding to other people, Gilbert told pastors.

“Be with the sheep; it gives your preaching credibility,” he said, emphasizing that a pastor needs his people as much as they need him.

Joe Valenti spoke after Gilbert and smilingly accused him of stealing his message. “What he preached to you is what I’m going to preach,” said the student and missions pastor from Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio. “Namely, that if you would fall in love with the God of the gospel, if he would be your everything, then everything else comes out of that.”

Valenti, whose church is engaged in reaching unreached people groups with the gospel, quoted pastor and author John Piper, who has said, “You cannot commend what you do not cherish.” When pastors treasure the God of the gospel, Valenti said, relying on him for everything and never forgetting the first day they experienced his grace, “missions comes out.”

There are more than 11,000 people groups in the world, Valenti said, and more than 7,000 are still unreached with the gospel. That’s not a problem for the International Mission Board or for missionaries or for the Cooperative Program, he said. Rather, “We need to see the completion of the Great Commission as a personal problem.”

Pastor Brad Pittman

Brad Pittman (center), pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Davis Junction, accepted this year’s IBSA Bivocational Pastor of the Year award this morning at the Pastors’ Conference in Decatur. 

In light of eternity
The mass shooting at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas, just two days before the conference began lent a heightened urgency to the meeting and the messages. Randy Johnson, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur, preached on how to share the gospel as if it’s going to be your last opportunity, while Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, told pastors the world they minister in is only getting darker.

The Christian worldview decreases a few percentage points every year, said Stetzer, former executive director of LifeWay Research and a long-time analyst of church and religion trends. And it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better, he added.

“I’m convinced that one of the reasons Southern Baptists are declining is that we have hidden our light under a bushel,” Stetzer said. But as aliens and strangers in the culture—as exiles—can we love people in the midst of cultural change, he asked. “If we can’t, we have a lot of explaining to do to Christians who have—for 2,000 years—done that.”

The 2018 IBSA Pastors’ Conference is Nov. 6-7 at First Baptist Church, Maryville. Officers are Bob Stilwell, president; Ben Towell, vice president; and Rayden Hollis, treasurer.

Can it happen here?

ib2newseditor —  November 18, 2017

church pews

The 26 lives taken in an act of evil at a Sunday morning church service on Nov. 5 at Sutherland Springs, Texas shocked the nation. It was the largest mass shooting at a church in the history of the United States, but sadly, not the first. And it happened at a Southern Baptist Church, one named First Baptist, like so many around the country.

Still, many believe it won’t happen “here.”

It could and it already has. In March 2009 Pastor Fred Winters was shot and killed while preaching from the pulpit at First Baptist Church Maryville.

The Illinois Baptist interviewed Rich Cochran, director of leadership development at IBSA, who was minister of education and children at FBC Maryville that tragic Sunday morning.

“We ignore reality because we don’t want to face it and don’t know what to do,” he said. “We’d rather keep our heads in the sand.”

Cochran was just getting ready to enter the sanctuary when the shots rang out. The church had a security plan, but the gunman who was also armed with a knife and stabbed two church members who tried to restrain him, still managed to fire four shots before he could be subdued. The killer, who had no known connection to Winters or the church, was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Remembering that morning, Cochran said, “I don’t think there was a whole lot of second guessing. We had a plan and [after] we created a more detailed plan. There was a tornado threat that day and that was the plan that had been reviewed that morning.”

The repercussions are lasting, taking an emotional toll on the staff and congregation. “There are still dreams about and emotions from what happened,” he shared.

Cochran referenced Tom Hufty’s message at the IBSA Annual Meeting on Nov. 8., when Hufty said he “still runs into people with strong hurts that don’t go away.” Hufty took Winters place as pastor of FBC Maryville.

Hufty noted the different emotional responses that occurred within the congregation. According to Hufty, some said, “I can’t come back to that place. Others closed ranks — we’ve got to stick together we can’t let Satan win. And others needed a new start.”

When asked what advice he would give to pastors and staff thinking about putting a church safety plan together, Cochran said it’s important that pastors and staff process and walk through mentally and verbally would what they do were such a thing to happen.

“Review your risk, take an assessment, know where your vulnerabilities are, minimize those vulnerabilities, live out your mission,” those are the key things they can do.

He also noted, “It’s important congregations be extremely friendly, engaging everyone. Then, you can notice when something isn’t right. Then, it doesn’t seem like you have the National Guard in your lobby. The best way, is to train people to be nice and to welcome everyone.”

There is a danger in letting fear take hold he cautioned. “If we pat our heads and build mega-forts around ourselves we do a disservice to missionaries. If we protect ourselves so much it disrupts our mission we’re out of whack. There is a constant tension.”

Prayer does play a role. “We need to pray, yes, we need to prepare,” he nodded. “Yes, we need to live by faith. We live in a world where evil is present. Even Jesus said there would be troubles.”

In the simplest of terms Cochran urged, “Prepare, prepare, prepare. Then you have to walk by faith. We’re called to illuminate the darkness.”

– Lisa Misner Sergent

Decatur, Ill. | Two days after a mass shooting at a Southern Baptist church in Texas, Illinois pastor Randy Johnson urged pastors to preach every message like it could be their last opportunity to deliver the gospel.

Johnson, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur, filled in at the IBSA Pastors’ Conference for Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines, who was slated to preach during the conference but is in Texas ministering to First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs. On Sunday, Nov. 5, a gunman killed 26 people at the small church outside San Antonio.

Preaching from the book of 2 Timothy, Johnson encouraged pastors to check their measure of gospel urgency. Preach like it could be your last message, he said, and also like it could be your hearers’ last opportunity hear the gospel.

“As a preacher of the gospel, your highest calling is to preach the word,” he said. “It is your responsibility to stand before your people in your church and tell them what is right, what isn’t right, and how to get right.”

Johnson exhorted pastors to not only remember that every message could be their last, but also that every hearer will have a last moment.

“Preach like it’s their [the congregation’s] last moment. They don’t know when it’s going to be… You’re going to have people who don’t want to hear what you’re going to say. Consider their last moment. What are you leaving them with? What are you turning their hearts toward?”

On Wednesday morning, Ed Stetzer (below) spoke to Pastors’ Conference attenders about working for and journeying toward the long view of ministry. Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, urged pastors to have an eternal perspective and to recognize the contrast between life now and eternal life in heaven.

Ed Stetzer web

“It’s a long hard slog sometimes in ministry,” Stetzer said, “and we’re going to see Jesus one day.” That sounds very “old-school Baptist,” he acknowledged, but Baptists a few generations ago talked about heaven a lot more than we do now.

Christians have a confident hope, he said, because they walk by faith and not by sight.

“The afterlife is a sighted life, but life now is not. You don’t know everything. But you have a confident hope, because you know Jesus does.”