Archives For pastors

Our neverending task

Lisa Misner —  March 4, 2019

By Nate Adams

In addition to a great faculty of Illinois pastors and church leaders, last month’s 2019 Illinois Leadership Summit welcomed Mark Clifton as its primary speaker. Mark has been a pastor, a church planter and replanter, and a director of missions for decades. He now serves churches through the North American Mission Board in the area of church replanting.

The theme of our conference was “Reimagine.” I was hoping that leaders in general, not just church replanters and revitalizers, would benefit from Mark’s teaching. I was not disappointed.

As Mark began describing churches that should consider replanting, he clarified that he was talking about churches that, presuming they remain on their current trajectories, would probably need to close their doors in the next three to five years. And yet as he described the characteristics and needs of those declining or dying churches, I saw many, many pastors and leaders in the room nodding in empathy and agreement. Their churches may not have been five years from closing, but it was clear they recognized some of the same danger signs in their own settings. In a sense, all pastors must be revitalizers or replanters.

Churches that die, Mark asserted, tend to value their own preferences over the needs of the unreached. They cease, perhaps gradually, to be part of the fabric of the community. In fact, what was once a community church often becomes a commuter church.

On today’s ministry landscape, all pastors must be ‘vitalizers.’

As the church declines, some members tend to resent the community for not responding the way they once did. They may work harder and harder on church programs or activities, but these tend to be for insiders, and have little impact on the unchurched, or little relevance to the community.

Dying churches, Mark observed, also seem to have an inability to pass meaningful leadership on to the next generation, and they can often confuse caring for the church building with caring for the church and community. Dying churches value the process of decision-making more than the outcomes of those decisions. And a few strong personalities tend to drive those decisions, while others remain silent or simply drift away.

Of course, it’s much easier to recognize those kinds of traits in churches other than your own. That’s why an outside perspective or consultant is often helpful. And as this experienced leader from outside Illinois described the churches with which he had worked over the years, it was as if he was holding up a mirror in which we could also see ourselves.

One thing I really appreciate about Mark’s background and experience is that he had invested 10 years in a Midwest, urban church that had declined to 18 people when he arrived and grew back to about 120 by the time he left. He spoke personally and lovingly, not of “small” churches, but of “normative” size churches, reminding us that 63% of SBC churches in America have less than 100 in worship, and 83% have less than 200. If we are going to penetrate the lostness of our nation, he reminded us, it will not just be through large churches, but through thousands of normative-size churches, both revitalized and newly planted.

My greatest personal takeaway from the conference was simply this. Especially in the normative-size churches of Illinois, the primary focus of a pastor or church leader must be to bring vitality to a church by leading it proactively out into its community. Replanting is only necessary when revitalization doesn’t happen in time. And revitalization is only necessary if we allow the church’s intended vitality to fade.

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

The purposes of ordination

Lisa Misner —  February 27, 2019

By Nate Adams

This past month our family gathered at Calvary Baptist Church in Elgin for my middle son Noah’s ordination into pastoral ministry. It was my privilege to deliver the “charge to the candidate,” something I felt I had been doing to Noah all his life, first as a boy, then as a teenager and young man, but now specifically as a Baptist minister of the gospel.

Calvary is my mom’s home church, and the location of my father’s funeral service almost 13 years ago. I wore one of Dad’s ties into the pulpit that evening, and gave another to Noah, reminding him that he represents a third generation of ministry in our family. I’ve known some of the church members there at Calvary for more than 40 years, and I watched gratefully as some of them, and then some of their children, came down front to lay hands on Noah and to pray for him. Needless to say, it was a very special evening.

The week after Noah’s ordination, I received an e-mail survey from an associational missions strategist in Kentucky who is doing research on pastoral ordination in Southern Baptist churches. The introduction to the survey stated that it was being precipitated by a “significant discussion concerning SBC ordination practices,” stemming from a recent report in the Houston Chronicle regarding sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches, some by ordained pastors.

It calls for celebration, yes, but also ongoing accountability.

The survey asked each participant to reflect on his own ordination experience, and whether it included certain elements. While I had to reflect back more than 25 years, I quickly recognized in the survey’s questions many elements that my ordination process included, but some that it did not.

For example, my ordination council consisted of ordained men from multiple churches, and they asked me questions about the Bible, and about The Baptist Faith and Message, and about my views on specific doctrines. They asked questions about my experience in ministry, though most of them had observed that first-hand for years, and about my wife’s commitment to ministry.

I do not, however, recall any questions or conversation about sexual purity, past or present. I do not recall questions or conversation examining potentially personal or selfish motivations or expectations for ministry. The survey helped me think about the benefits of including those elements in an ordination process.

Perhaps most thought-provoking to me was the survey’s question asking whether members of my ordination council had ever followed up with me to see how I was doing in ministry. My dad was on my ordination council, so I did have that follow-through and accountability. Others were friends and acquaintances for years to come. But there was no formal follow-up, and I had to admit it sounded nice to get an occasional call from someone on my ordination council, checking in on me and helping rekindle and sustain my call to ministry.

Sadly, since that wonderful, affirming, inspirational time of my ordination, I have come in contact with pastors who have fallen into sexual sin, financial impropriety, deceit or greed that was destructive to their church, child abuse, and even one who underwent operations to change his sexual identity.

So as we ordained my son this past week, I was reminded that ordination is not only a time of great celebration for the church, and affirmation of God’s calling on someone’s life. It is also a time of careful examination, scrutiny, and ongoing accountability, not just for the benefit of the ordaining church, but for the long-term good and protection of all the churches in that man’s future.

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

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.

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