Archives For pastors

Pastor Curtis Gilbert

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

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.”

 

 

 

Somebody’s prayin’

ib2newseditor —  October 2, 2017

Pray button

After my dad’s mother died, I remember him saying that he physically felt the absence of her prayers. Dad had, in some ways, a challenging personality for pastoring. He was introverted, in many ways non-assertive, a quiet thinker and reader who scripted his sermons by hand so that he could deliver them effectively.

So, if you only knew my dad personally, you may have been surprised when you first saw him step into the pulpit, or witnessed him in some other pastoral role. He was wise, articulate, bold, insightful, truly helpful. As a pastor, he was supernaturally equipped for the role to which God had called him, in a way that eclipsed his natural limitations. And I believe this was supernaturally sustained by the devoted prayers of people who supported him over the years, his mother and my mother chief among them.

Our pastors need our sincere and earnest prayer. They need us to intercede spiritually for them, every bit as much as they need us to support them in leading the ministries of our church. Not all pastors face the same challenges that my dad did, but all of them face their own unique struggles and obstacles. If it is primarily those closest to them that sustain them in prayer, just think what could happen with an entire church earnestly praying.

Pastors need our sincere and earnest intercession.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. If this is not already your practice, let me encourage you to take the month of October to pray for your pastor, and perhaps other pastors you know, daily. At the IBSA.org website, there will be a daily prayer guide to assist you in that discipline.

You will not be alone. Throughout October, our IBSA staff will be praying for every IBSA church pastor, by name. We are also asking for specific prayer requests by e-mail, and personally calling more than 300 pastors for whom we don’t have a current e-mail address, to ask them how we can pray.

I hope many pastors will share specific prayer needs, perhaps some that are difficult to share with church members, and will allow us to pray for them personally in this way. For those from whom we don’t receive specific requests, we will simply use the prayer guide to pray for each pastor.

Many churches give gifts and other expressions of love to their pastors during October. Prayer, especially consistent, daily prayer, is one of the greatest appreciation gifts you can give. When something “appreciates,” it increases in value. And I believe that the sincere, consistent prayers of a congregation will “increase the value” of a pastor more than anything else. And by the way, that’s true even when you may personally struggle with your pastor!

In a recent IBSA chapel, we were talking about praying for pastors. Our state worship director, Steve Hamrick, shared about his dad, also a pastor, who prayed for him daily throughout his ministry. When his dad passed away a few years ago, his father-in-law noted at the funeral how special that prayer relationship was, and committed to him to take up the privilege of praying for Steve from that day forward.

During that same chapel, Steve led us in singing the old Ricky Skaggs song, “Somebody’s Prayin’.” The first two lines of that song are simply, “Somebody’s prayin’, I can feel it. Somebody’s prayin’ for me.”

IBSA pastors, I will be one of those somebodies praying for you throughout the month of October, along with every member of our staff. I hope you “feel” it in the same way that my dad did from his mom. And I hope you will feel it from many faithful church members as well.

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

New study shows factors that attract and keep new members

Attracting and keeping people considered unchurched is rated as the top predictor of growth through new professions of faith at small churches, according to a new study encompassing 12 Christian denominations including Southern Baptists.

“These churches are places of invitation, welcome, and involvement for the unchurched,” the study’s authors said. “So, the unchurched stick around in greater numbers. And they come to Christ and get committed to the church in greater numbers.”

The Billy Graham Center of Wheaton College conducted the newly released study in partnership with Lifeway Research of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Caskey Center for Church Excellence of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The telephone survey of 1,500 pastors and church leaders found and ranked 29 predictors of growth through Christian conversion at churches of 250 members or less. Study authors released the top 10 growth predictors June 26.

Second to attracting and keeping the unchurched, small churches that grow by Christian conversions tend to offer classes for new attendees, the study found. Such classes help even when they are not evangelistic.

Third, small churches that grow through new baptisms are led by pastors who routinely undergo personal evangelism training.

“If the pastor is a learner and stays inspired and growing in the area of evangelism,” study authors said, “that pastor’s church will reach more people who commit to Christ and who stick.”

Newcomers church growth chart

In response to declining baptisms in the U.S., Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines appointed a 19-member evangelism task force at the 2017 SBC annual meeting. The group of SBC seminary presidents and professors, pastors, and a state convention leader are expected to report its findings at the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

Nearly 90% of Southern Baptist churches had weekly attendance of 250 or less as recently as 2013, and qualified for the “small church category.”

In the Wheaton study, the other top growth predictors among small churches are:

  • The pastor more frequently “pops the question,” asking people to commit after he shares the gospel.
  • The church spends a higher percentage of its budget on evangelism and missions.
  • Church members often tell the pastor that they themselves are sharing the gospel with others, rather than relying on the pastor to carry the load alone. “The church does not need superstar pastors who share their faith while everybody in the church cheers them on from the sidelines,” study authors said.
  • Unchurched visitors often communicate favorable feedback to pastors after weekly worship services.
  • The church shares the gospel outside its walls and conducts community service.
  • Churches that grow through conversions concurrently tend to draw members from other congregations. “In other words,” study authors wrote, “transfer and conversion growth tend to go together for small churches.”
  • Cited as the 10th most predictive factor of growth through new conversions, according to the study, “the pastor more frequently blocks out time in the calendar for the purpose of sharing the gospel with non-Christians. If the pastor is to lead evangelism in the church, the pastor must first personally live out the evangelism call.”

Smaller churches in the survey, those with 150 or fewer members, tended to grow more easily than the larger small churches in the survey, the study found. Additionally, predominantly Hispanic and Native American churches tended to fare better in growth.

Joining Southern Baptists in responding to the survey are members of the Assemblies of God, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, Converge Worldwide, the Evangelical Covenant Church, the Evangelical Free Church in America, The Foursquare Church, the Missionary Church, Vineyard US, and The Wesleyan Church.

Study authors include Ed Stetzer, executive director of Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center for Evangelism and former LifeWay Research executive director.

LifeWay Research plans to release a full report of the study at lifewayresearch.com.

– Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The Briefing

Illinois family killed in ISIS attack in Egypt
An Illinois man and several of his relatives, including two sons and a grandchild, were among 29 killed during an ISIS attack on a church bus in Egypt. Family members say the bus was full of Christians on their way to a remote Egyptian monastery when they were attacked by members of the Islamic state.

Illinois House approves transgender ID change bill
The Illinois House has endorsed a plan to make it easier for transgender people to change their birth certificates. The bill would allow transgender citizens to change their gender designation with authorization from a medical professional confirming they have undergone medically appropriate treatment. Current law requires proof of a surgical operation.

Evidence against Planned Parenthood disappears from YouTube
Last week, lawyers for The Center for Medical Progress released more footage of abortionists discussing late-term abortions at National Abortion Federation conventions. The video, along with other footage under temporary injunction after a civil suit filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood, disappeared from YouTube after U.S. District Judge William Orrick ordered it taken down.

TX governor signs bill to ‘shield’ pastors’ sermons
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed legislation that prohibits Texas government agencies from subpoenaing the sermons of religious leaders. Four of the five Houston pastors whose sermons became the target of a sweeping 2014 subpoena “fishing expedition” by City of Houston attorneys and then-Mayor Annise Parker joined the signing ceremony.

Christian school bans pregnant teen from graduation
Despite a public outcry and growing pressure from national antiabortion groups to reconsider, Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland says that senior Maddi Runkles broke the school’s rules by engaging in intimate sexual activity. In a letter to parents Tuesday evening, school principal David R. Hobbs said that Runkles is being disciplined, “not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral. … The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.”

Sources: News Channel 20, US News, Baptist Press, World Magazine, Washington Post

Nate Adams IBSA exterior

Former editor Dennis Dawson used to write a column in the Illinois Baptist titled, “Is This a Great State or What?” During those days, I remember many IBSA staff members who would return from a far corner of the state and parody that column’s title by asking, “Is this a great BIG state, or what?”

Illinois is almost 400 miles long from its northern border to its southern tip, and more than 200 miles at its widest point from east to west. Believe me, I know. On a given Sunday, it’s possible for me to drive three and a half hours to a church in southern Illinois, or four or more to a church north of Chicago, even from our central location in Springfield. But when it comes to traveling our great state, I have two secret weapons, or perhaps I should call them secret blessings. I have a mom who lives in the Chicago suburbs, and a mother-in-law who lives in the heart of southern Illinois.

Though both have been widowed for several years, and both are well into their 80’s, these two dear moms still maintain their own homes and are very active in their churches. And they still put a pretty good meal on the table. So when my travel takes me in their direction, my wife or I often call in advance and ask, “Is the Bed & Breakfast available this weekend?”

A word of thanks to faithful mothers for good food and, even better, spiritual refreshment.

Of course, these are our moms, not innkeepers. I would never want to presume upon their hospitality, and I’m sensitive to the fact that I’m sometimes passing through their homes quickly, with little more time than for a bed and breakfast. Yet each time I have apologized for that, our moms have both assured me that they are always glad for whatever time we have together.

Over the years, I have learned that there is more to a bed than sleep, and
more to breakfast than eating. When you’re at Mom’s house, the smells are
familiar. The sounds are familiar. The pictures on the walls and the knickknacks on the shelves are familiar. It’s home.

When you sit around the kitchen table at Mom’s house, you relax and ease up a little. You help yourself from the fridge. You change a light bulb or two, so she won’t have to. You eat, but more than that, you fellowship.

In other words, the blessing that these two moms are to me and my often extensive travel goes far beyond the hours of sleep saved. It even goes beyond the dollar they save the IBSA budget, which I’m sure would be thousands and thousands over the past few years. They refresh me. They refresh my wife and allow us to travel together more. They give me home away from home.

So as Mother’s Day passes this year, and since they both read the Illinois Baptist faithfully, I want to use this brief space to say thank you to two faithful moms, Romelia Adams and Georgianna Schultz. Perhaps in doing so I am helping other pastors or church leaders say thank you to their moms too, for all the ways that they support our ministries, from nearby or afar.

I recall my dad once saying that when his mother passed, he physically felt the absence of her prayers. I don’t know how that works exactly, but I do know that there is something extremely valuable in the support of a mother. I see it in our two moms, and I see it in my wife, not just for me, but especially for our children, and their spiritual lives.

So I will keep cherishing the times when I can pick up the phone and ask, “Is the Bed & Breakfast available?” So far it has been every time.

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

Blue ribbonNate Adams’s Illinois Baptist column was awarded first place by the Evangelical Press Association.