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Steve GainesIt seems a fair question, especially following the loquacious and public presidency of Ronnie Floyd. Steve Gaines, by comparison, is almost invisible. This is not a criticism of Gaines, that he would have a different style as Southern Baptist Convention president. That is to be expected. Each president makes his own way and leads from his own strengths. But Gaines’s style, working in a less public way that his immediate predecessors, leaves us wondering: What is Steve Gaines doing?

And we find ourselves hoping that he’s focusing on issues that we just haven’t heard about yet.

Floyd wrote. Floyd spoke. A lot. Almost every week Floyd published on his blog and in Baptist Press his thoughts on righting the denomination and meeting the culture conflict head on. He quickly assumed a statesman position for his two years in office, urging support for missions and the Cooperative Program. We in the local Baptist news media came to rely on his thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis of current events.

Gaines, on the other hand, has spoken for publication rarely. He offered a few comments in the election season and after the January inauguration, mostly encouraging Southern Baptists to pray for the Trump Administration. And in February he addressed Baptist newspaper editors and state convention executive directors in Los Angeles. Gaines spoke on Trump’s election, appointments, and early actions as president. And he urged prayer for revival in America. Gaines has themed the 2017 SBC Annual Meeting “Pray: For Such a Time as This,” following Floyd and his predecessor, Fred Luter, in bringing Southern Baptists to our knees for spiritual awakening.

But it’s his comment on the complaints about the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and its president Russell Moore that, we hope, gives a glimpse at Gaines’s work behind the curtain.

“I hope the kind of talk we have been hearing is not the direction in which we are going. I hope Russell will remain in his position and that we have reconciliation with a lot of people,” Gaines said in Los Angeles. His comment came almost simultaneously with the announcement by Dallas-area pastor Jack Graham that his megachurch, Prestonwood Baptist, would be holding in escrow its $1-million offering through the Cooperative Program. Graham expressed concerns about the direction of the SBC and the ERLC, in particular, after an election cycle marked by anti-Trump tweets, Moore’s ongoing concern for refugees, and the “friend of the court” support of a freedom of religion case, in which both the ERLC and the International Mission Board (IMB) opposed onerous government regulations placed on a New Jersey mosque.

Southern Baptists do not need another era of suspicion, doubt, and sometime demagoguery. Our mission cause is too important to withhold funding over ancillary anxieties. The reconciliation that Gaines spoke about requires behind-the-scenes diplomacy and skillful mediation. That’s what we might hope Gaines is doing, even if we never hear about it publicly.

-Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist

Fractured alliances

ib2newseditor —  July 11, 2016

Fractured alliances

As the national political conventions approach, it’s time for evangelicals to decide. For some, it’s a choice they’d rather not make.

With the national conventions for both major American political parties just days away and the nominees all but a foregone conclusion, the only remaining question is how voters in November will react to this most unusual presidential election.

Christian voters in particular have yet to coalesce behind either candidate, although a June meeting between presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and nearly 1,000 evangelicals signaled things may be changing, at least for some conservative leaders.

And Trump’s announcement of an evangelical advisory committee, including several Southern Baptists, reverberated around the Twitter-sphere, shaking the unified front Baptists had shown just days before at the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis.

The divide is growing between conservatives who support Trump over Hillary Clinton’s liberal ideals, and those who say they won’t vote for the businessman-turned-reality TV star with a penchant for saying whatever is on his mind. Along with the differences among Christians, some pundits see a growing split between the traditional “religious right” and the Republican party.

“In the coming weeks, we are going to be learning a great deal more about the presidential candidates,” forecasted Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler in a recent edition of his Briefing podcast. “But it’s also increasingly true that we’re going to be learning a great deal about ourselves as evangelical Christians in America.

“Perhaps we’d better brace ourselves for what we’re going to learn.”

Meeting the Donald

On June 20, Donald Trump met in New York City with nearly 1,000 Christian leaders, including immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ronnie Floyd and newly elected president Steve Gaines, along with several other Southern Baptists.

The gathering, emceed by former Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, included a Q&A time with Trump, who has won over conservative voters in the primaries even as Christian leaders have decried his volatile speaking style and confession last year that he wasn’t sure he had ever asked God for forgiveness of his sins.

Following the meeting, Trump named a 25-member evangelical advisory board, which includes Floyd and at least seven fellow Southern Baptists. Floyd is among the members of the board who say their participation doesn’t constitute an endorsement of the candidate, rather “as an avenue to voice what matters to evangelicals,” he told The Christian Post.

Floyd also cited several key issues that compelled him to participate on Trump’s advisory board, including Supreme Court appointments, the sanctity of human life, religious liberty, Israel and the Middle East, and racial tension.

But many Christian and conservative leaders took issue with the meeting and the participation of those appointed to the advisory board. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and a recent Trump target on Twitter, took on the seeming divide between Trump’s public persona and his coziness with evangelicals:

“If you wondered why younger, theological, gospel-centered evangelicals reacted (negatively) to the old guard Religious Right, well, now you know,” Moore tweeted June 21, following up with, “If character matters then character matters.”

Moore wasn’t the only voice to question the authenticity of Trump’s relationship with Christians. Writing for The Federalist online, film critic Rebecca Cusey described reading through the meeting transcript, “thinking maybe Trump might exhibit some charm, some thoughtfulness in a smaller setting that is lost on the large stage, something that would explain why people who profess to believe in Jesus would be so taken in by Trump.

“Sadly, no. The transcript is shocking in its pandering: of Trump to evangelicals, yes—we expected that—but also in their pandering to Trump.”

Floyd acknowledged the widespread criticism, blogging a few days after the meeting that his short time out of the office of SBC president had been in some ways more difficult than leading the denomination for two years. He listed several Bible characters who had opportunity to speak into the lives of national leaders, including Old Testament prophet Daniel.

“What if Daniel had refused to acknowledge King Nebuchadnezzar and acted like he was too righteous to relate to him?” Floyd asked.

Similarly, Richard Land, who preceded Moore as president of the ERLC, asked critics of the Trump meeting what they would have the advisory team do instead of participate when asked.

“Would they really have us spurn the opportunity to give spiritual counsel and advice to Mr. Trump and his team?” Land wrote in a column for The Christian Post. “How would that be obedience to our Saviour’s command to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world?”

Fractured alliances 2

 Weighing other options

Some evangelicals are looking to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as an alternative to Trump, in spite of her policies on abortion and LGBT issues that run counter to traditionally-held conservative views.

Thabiti Anyabwile, in a column for The Gospel Coalition, said in May he planned, for the time being, to vote for Clinton. “…However we might evaluate her as a leader or her platform as a vision for America, we could say more or less the exact same things about Trump—with one glaring exception,” wrote Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C.

“We have no way of predicting Trump’s behavior from one hour to the next. None. Except to predict that the behavior will be vile and repulsive for any person who cares about civility, truth, and the dignity of the office.”

Deborah Fikes, executive advisor to the World Evangelical Alliance, gave Clinton her endorsement in June, saying of Trump, “…I worry that allowing religious and ethnic intolerance here in America will undermine our ability to have a prayer of fighting it around the world.”

Still, Trump has branded himself as the candidate most invested in religious liberty and other Christian concerns. So far, a majority of voters agree: A June poll by CBS found Trump leads Clinton among evangelical voters by a margin of 62% to 17%.

However, as Religion News Service’s analysis of the poll pointed out, Trump’s 62% is lower than the percentage of white evangelical voters who favored George Bush (79%), John McCain (73%) and Mitt Romney (79%) in the last three elections.

Gallup polling from May found the two candidates neck and neck among those who identify as “Protestant” or “Other Christian”—36% had a favorable opinion of Clinton, and 38% had a favorable opinion of Trump. Both candidates’ numbers were slightly lower among the “Highly religious”—35% for Clinton and 37% for Trump.

For those voters who don’t foresee an appealing option for November, Christian and conservative leaders have floated other ideas, including third-party candidates, write-in voting, and abstention. Alan Noble, a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, wrote for Vox that “unless a third-party candidate with broad appeal emerges, evangelical Christians would be better served by abstaining from that vote and shifting their energy toward electing people to Congress and local and state governments who have the opportunity to restrain whichever candidate is elected as needed.”

But many Christian leaders have been vocal about getting out the vote, even for candidates that are less than ideal. On his tour of state capitals, evangelist Franklin Graham has urged Christians to vote, but hasn’t endorsed specific candidates. Graham has instead warned against inactivity, citing a statistic that reports 20 million evangelicals did not vote in the 2012 presidential election.

In Springfield, Graham told several thousand gathered in front of the Capitol, “Our job as Christians is to make Christ felt in every [area] of life—religious, social, economic, political.”

Keep the lines open

No matter who believers support in the election, said Wheaton College’s Ed Stetzer, the rhetorical tone should be loving.

“In years past, I generally had to encourage evangelicals to avoid scorning fellow evangelicals who voted Democrat. Now, perhaps we need exhortation to avoid scorning those who vote for Donald Trump….Rather than looking down with scorn on evangelical Trump supporters, perhaps we should sit down with them, listen to them, and hear their concerns.”

Mohler prescribed similar action in his June 22 podcast, urging Christians to think through the issues at hand.

“In this difficult political season, evangelicals must not demonize one another as to how we’re thinking through these issues, but I must plead with all evangelicals that we must indeed think through these issues carefully and faithfully, and think very biblically and candidly.”

To fail to remember oneness in Christ and fall instead into factions and camps could result in a loss of the unity achieved during the recent Southern Baptist Convention, wrote Pastor Ted Traylor following the meeting with Trump, which he attended. At the June 14-15 convention in St. Louis, Baptists united around one presidential candidate, Steve Gaines, after another, J.D. Greear, bowed out prior to a second run-off election.

Now, as Baptists consider another election, Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., advised them to think carefully in a blog post titled, “What I learned from a conversation with Donald Trump.”

“There has been much vitriol on social media about the Trump meeting within the tribe of Southern Baptists. We left our convention last week in unity. Demonizing each other over secular politics will quickly destroy what we saw and hailed as God-given unity. We are in the Gospel business.

“However, as we render to Caesar what is his we must be wise, kind and discerning.”

Church in the United StatesThe election for President of the Southern Baptist Convention last month understandably attracted a lot of attention. But I was just as intrigued with the election for President of the annual SBC Pastors Conference that took place the day before.

Dave Miller, pastor of a medium-sized church in Sioux City, Iowa, somewhat surprisingly prevailed with 55% of the vote. The Pastors Conference President has traditionally been a megachurch pastor, often from a southern or larger state.

From my perspective, Pastor Miller ran not so much on his personal ministry resume as on a platform of ideas that proposed taking at least the 2017 Pastors Conference in a very new direction. Conference speakers would be only from SBC churches. No one who has spoken at the Pastors Conference in the past five years would speak at the 2017 meeting. Speakers would represent a diversity of geography, age, ethnicity, preaching style, and perspective. And there would be a focus on inviting pastors to speak who lead churches of 500 or fewer.

I’m glad we are reminded that these churches have a lot
to offer.

Not many of these parameters describe the Pastors Conferences of recent years, and the new ideas clearly resonated with a majority of those voting. Pastor Miller was elected, and his response the next day in his SBC Voices blog reminded me a little of the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.” He wrote, “The budget of this two-day event is pretty much the annual budget of my church…But we are in this together and we are going to be looking to expand our circle.”

While I personally would have been glad for either candidate to lead next year’s Pastors Conference, I can’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction in the ideas that it appears will now influence next year’s program. I too have wondered why the same men sometimes speak in consecutive years of the Pastors Conference, or why speakers aren’t always from SBC churches.

Most of all, as a Midwestern Southern Baptist, I celebrate the idea that there are gifted preachers in small to medium-sized churches, and in churches outside the Deep South, and in churches of diverse cultural settings. The Pastors Conference will benefit from some of these voices, as it has from the gifted communicators who lead many of our megachurches.

After 10 years at IBSA, I still speak in or visit a church for the very first time at least once or twice a month. Many times someone in those churches will say something like, “We didn’t think you would come to a church our size,” or “We waited until our 100th anniversary to invite you because we know you’re so busy.”

I’m always humbled and a little embarrassed by those assumptions. So I want to say again that IBSA and I personally truly desire to serve and assist each and every local church we can, regardless of size, location, ethnicity, or age. Especially if I’ve never been there, I would love to come to your church, to get to know your church family, and to listen to your pastor or give him a week off, whatever serves the church best.

The average Southern Baptist church in Illinois had about 80 in worship last year. Across the SBC, the average was around 110. It may be that larger churches tend to have more full-time pastors and more practiced and polished preachers. But the ones I’ve been learning from all my life lead these wonderful, average churches. I’m glad a pastor from western Iowa reminded us that pastors from these churches have a lot to offer. And I’d love to come and worship in yours sometime soon.

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

High stakes higher calling

Facing cultural decline and denominational woes, Southern Baptists leave St. Louis amazed by grace.

St. Louis | The stakes are high, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd declared to Southern Baptists gathered in St. Louis. And perhaps they’ve never been higher.

Christians are being martyred around the world. Refugees are fleeing for their lives. There are still thousands of people groups unreached with the gospel, but limited funds required the SBC this year to reduce its missions force by more than 1,000.

“As followers of Jesus Christ, everything we believe in and place in high value is at stake,” said Floyd, an Arkansas pastor who finished his second one-year term as SBC president.

At home, spiritual lostness is growing. Religious freedom is under fire. And the threat of domestic terrorism looms large, exhibited in Orlando just hours before Southern Baptists convened in St. Louis.

The attack on a gay nightclub early June 12 that left 50 people dead cast a shadow on the St. Louis meeting, and sent Southern Baptists to their knees in prayer. Because all human beings are made in the image of God, Floyd said, the attack “is against each of us.”

Every pastor or leader who prayed from the platform during the meeting included Orlando in his prayer.

Baptists’ commitment to missions and evangelism also were on display in St. Louis, in messages preached at the Pastors’ Conference and through a joint presentation by the SBC’s two mission agencies that highlighted the role of the local church and individual Christians in taking the gospel to unreached communities.

And at the heart of the meeting was a show of humility by SBC leaders, as two men vying for the denomination’s presidency met before their run-off election, each telling the other one to take the post.

When Baptists dispersed from St. Louis, they left having unified around a new president, and having heard a call to urgency for and commitment to the gospel of Christ.

Good thing, because the stakes are historically high.

Grassroots participation

As pastors and churches struggle to navigate social change and growing lostness, the stakes are high for people in the pew as well, Floyd said.

“Our pastors and churches need you to be engaged more on Sundays than ever before,” he preached in his president’s address Tuesday morning. “But we also need you to intentionally integrate your faith on the front lines of culture.” In everything you do, no matter where you are.

At the St. Louis meeting, everyday Baptists were urged to take the gospel to the communities as they live their everyday lives, and were shown examples of regular people who are doing just that.

During his agency’s presentation, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell interviewed a group of church planters who have started new congregations in Iowa college towns and are moving next to Columbia, Missouri. On large video screens, meeting attenders heard from a college student planning to pay out-of-state tuition so she can be part of the new church in the state next door, and share the gospel with people who don’t know Christ.

“When you really get to it, we talk about the gospel more than we actually advance the gospel,” Floyd preached.

If we had just one-fourth of the passion for evangelism that we have for American politics, SBC politics, theological discourse, blogging, and a whole host of things, we could change the world for Christ, Floyd said before adding, “I can’t be president again, so I might as well be honest.”

We must recapture a vision for evangelism, Floyd preached, starting in our own towns. “This is where it begins.”

Class action

Many thought the election of a new SBC President would signal whether it was time for a generation of older pastors to pass the baton. There were theological issues at play too: Two of the candidates for president—Steve Gaines, 58, and J.D. Greear, 43—are established leaders of different theological streams within the SBC.

In the end, age and theology differences gave way to the greater good. A first vote between Gaines, Greear, and third candidate David Crosby of New Orleans forced a run-off between Gaines and Greear. A second vote was still too close to call, with Gaines narrowly edging Greear but not receiving the needed majority due to 108 disallowed votes. Greear announced Wednesday morning there was no need for another vote, because he was withdrawing his name from contention.

“Through this whole process, I’ve been praying for unity,” Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, posted on his website. “…If we go to a third vote, and one of us wins by one-half of one percent, it doesn’t matter which of us it is—it’s hard to see how that makes us a united body.”

After announcing his intention to withdraw, Greear received a long standing ovation from those in the convention hall. Floyd asked Greear to pray for Gaines and for the denomination, and messengers elected Gaines president by acclamation.

“I think it was a transcendent moment for the Convention because it embodies the spirit of humility that we as Christians are called to have,” said Kevin Carrothers, pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church and president of the Illinois Baptist State Association. “I think it was well-timed. I think it was a God thing. So, I’m excited about moving ahead, and admire both men and respect their decisions, both willing to step aside for the sake of something bigger than them.”

At a press conference after the election, Gaines said he and Greear “both were sensing the Holy Spirit moving in the same direction.” As both men considered dropping out of the race, they met together with SBC leaders the evening before the third vote was to be taken.

“I looked at him and I said, ‘Man, you can have it,’” recounted Gaines, who pastors Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. “He said, ‘No, I want you to have it.’” The meeting prompted Gaines to remember Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

“When the leaders are unified in the Lord Jesus Christ, it brings unity to the body,” Gaines said. As president, he plans to emphasize spiritual awakening, soul winning, and stewardship.

Greear encouraged his supporters also to exhibit a unified spirit. “The task for those of you who voted for me is not to complain that things didn’t go our way,” he posted the morning of his announcement. “It’s to follow the example of our Savior, who came not to be served, but to serve.

“It’s time for us to step up and get involved, to keep pushing forward and engaging in the mission with those who have gone before us. It’s time to look at what unites us.”

Munton elected

It took a little longer than expected for messengers to elect Illinois’ Doug Munton as First Vice President. Because Tuesday’s business proceedings ran over time, Munton’s election didn’t happen until Wednesday afternoon. The pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, who ran unopposed, told the Illinois Baptist the St. Louis convention was in some ways the most unusual one he’s been to, but also encouraging.

“God brought some unity, much-needed unity, to our Convention. That’s encouraging for our future. I’m grateful for it, and hopeful because of it,” Munton said. “The Lord is obviously at work. He is not done with the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Also elected as officers were Malachi O’Brien, pastor of The Church at Pleasant Ridge in Harrisonville, Mo., as second vice president; John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, to his 20th term as recording secretary; and Jim Wells, retired member of the Missouri Baptist Convention staff, to a 15th term as registration secretary.

The 2017 Southern Baptist Convention convenes in Phoenix June 13-14.

– Meredith Flynn

Greear Floyd Gaines2

JD Greear, Ronnie Floyd, and Steve Gaines.

There are three winners at the conclusion of the SBC presidential race: Steve Gaines takes the position and the responsibility; J.D. Greear takes the mantel as most Christ-like, and Southern Baptists leave St. Louis unified behind a single presidential candidate.

Greear’s action, withdrawing his name from the race after two ballots failed to produce a winner, was a first for longtime observers of the convention. Greear guaranteed two things: many of his supporters who are young and are new to SBC life are more likely stay engaged if they do not feel pushed out by the older, traditional constituency Gaines represents. And Greear guaranteed himself a place in SBC leadership for decades to come.

Would anyone be surprised if Greear ran unopposed in 2018? The 50% of SBC messengers who had backed Gaines could easily support in the next election the young man who did the very mature thing.

Deferring to the older candidate is indeed a mature move. And, in this case, it’s wise.

Both Greear and Gaines cited the need for unity in the denomination in this decision. “For the sake of our convention and our mission, we need to leave St. Louis united,” Greear said.

Gaines said he, too, had considered withdrawing. He quoted a close friend who said to him after the first day of the annual meeting, “We’re in a mess, aren’t we.” After two ballots, Gaines was still four votes short of a majority, because 108 ballots were disqualified by improper markings. Messengers at the best-attended convention in a decade or more were split right down the middle.

“It’s tricky,” Greear joked as he stepped to the podium to make his announcement, referring to a rap music video produced by a member of his church that some had construed as endorsements by several SBC-entity heads. The crowd laughed.

But it would be tricky to lead the denomination with the membership divided into two camps: established and traditional epitomized by Gaines, and younger and Reformed led by Greear.

For the sake of unity, Greear withdrew.

Gaines had offered to make the same move.

At 43, Greear will likely have another opportunity to be SBC president. Perhaps at 58, it is Gaines’s turn. With his mid-South megachurch platform, Gaines is likely to lead the convention in renewed evangelism, which Floyd and others have said is so vital.

And Greear has a little longer to bring his half of the SBC populace into leadership to form a new mainstream and identity, rather engage in a tug of war with the old guard over theology and tactics. “We are united by a gospel too great and a mission too urgent to let any lesser thing stand in our way,” Greear said.

The two men hugged on the platform, as Gaines was declared the winner by outgoing president Ronnie Floyd.

He could have as easily said, We all win.

– Eric Reed

Steve GainesFirst Baptist Church in O’Fallon had a guest pastor in its pulpit Sunday morning. Memphis pastor and candidate for Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines delivered the message at each of the church’s three morning worship services June 12.

The Bellevue Baptist Church pastor lamented Southern Baptist’s lack of focus on evangelism. “What’s happening in the Southern Baptist Convention is a tragedy,” Gaines declared. “We’re in a 17-year nose dive. This is unprecedented, we have more SBC churches, but fewer baptisms. If the people in those churches we’re planting aren’t evangelistic and soul-winning, we’re not going to reach this nation.”

His primary sermon text was taken from Acts 2:40-47. Gaines used Christ’s instructions for the church to exhort churches today to be more evangelistic.

He urged Southern Baptists to invite God back into their churches. “When God comes to church people start getting saved and baptized.” When people walk into a church “it doesn’t need to be dead. It ought to be alive with the power of God.”

Gaines stressed, “We should never plan a worship service to attract people. Instead, we should plan worship services that will attract the manifest presence of God – He will in turn will attract the people.”

Sharing Christ isn’t difficult he noted. “If you knew enough to get saved, you know enough to tell someone how to get saved.”

Prior to the sermon O’Fallon’s Pastor Doug Munton, who will be nominated to serve as the convention’s First Vice President at tomorrow afternoon’s meeting, introduced Gaines as his good friend. He then endorsed Gaines for Southern Baptist Convention President saying, “I’m biased, I believe Steve is the right guy, at the right place, at the right time.”

Gaines is one of three candidates who will be nominated for the job of SBC President tomorrow afternoon. David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church, New Orleans, LA, and JD Greear, pastor of the The Summit Church in Raleigh, NC, are also candidates.

 

 

 

Idlewild

Members of the Idlewild Baptist, Tampa, Fla. Crossover team: (l-r) Catherine Corpus, Lina Freeman, Frank Mira, and Elroy Rodriguez.

“The walk to the top was the hardest part,” Armando Fernandez shared. “The ride down was easy.”

Fernandez, a Crossover volunteer from Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., was talking about the zip line ride at the Crossover block party at Sterling Baptist Church in Fairview Heights, IL. His description was not unlike the efforts to share the gospel through the many Crossover events that took place June 11. It can be tough to get started sharing the gospel, but once you do, it’s easy.

Sharing the gospel with the local community is what Crossover is all about. Each year hundreds of volunteers come to the Southern Baptist Convention a few days early to participate in Crossover evangelism outreach projects in and around the host city.

The St. Louis metro area – in both Missouri and Illinois – was the recipient of the the outpouring of the gospel. “We’re in love with the metroplex,” said David Gray, Sterling’s pastor. It’s that love that inspired the church to be a Crossover ministry site. Jesse Wilham, student pastor at Sterling, worked to lay the ground work for the evangelistic event.

Zip line

For many, the zip line was the highlight of the block party.

Whether it’s sharing the gospel story or planning an evangelistic event, the groundwork must be laid. Cooperation from a number of Christian ministries and agencies made the it easy for volunteers to be placed in situations where they could share Christ.

The North American Mission Board funded the zip line rides, which normally run $30-$50 per person. Five hundred hamburgers and hotdogs were donated by a local company. A children’s ministry from Chicago provided drinks. The city of Fairview Heights loaned tents to the church. Gray said the local Chick-Fil-A even set up a stand “because the manager said they needed to be part of the event.”

Seventy-five people from eight churches representing Florida, Illinois, and Missouri made it their mission to come to Sterling Baptist Church to help its members reach the diverse neighborhood around them — some 20,000 Anglo Americans, African Americans, Guatemalans, Puerto Ricans and Nepalese for starters.

Idlewild’s Hispanic ministries pastor, Eloy Rodriguez, said the team came to Illinois because, “We’re doing what the Lord has asked us all to do. This is our Samaria.” In Acts 1:8 Jesus instructs his followers to share the gospel in their “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.”

Their church has made it a practice to prayer walk their own community and others sharing Christ with the people they meet. “We’re doing what the Lord asked us to do, bring the Lord to the people,” said Lina Freeman.

The team arrived on Wednesday night and started canvassing the neighborhood Thursday. It was then that Rodriguez had a life-changing encounter with a neighborhood man. “We were asking people if there was anything we could pray with them about. Many said they had recently lost loved ones. But, one man said, ‘Last Sunday, I was going to kill myself.’”

The man told Rodriguez he had been in his car and was going to drive into traffic, put pulled back when he realized not only would he kill himself, but the people in the other cars as well.

Rodriguez and his team shared the gospel with the man who accept Christ as his savior. After wards, “That guy gave me the biggest hug I’ve ever had,” shared Rodriguez.

Down the street from the block party the church hosted a soccer tournament, and Saturday night featured a concert by the praise bands from Anna Heights Baptist Church and Iglesia Bautista Latina in Effingham. A Sunday night concert by the southern gospel trio Sons of the Father capped off the Crossover weekend.

Gray said his goal was to reach 1,000 people through Crossover, and by mid-Saturday the church was well on its way with 500 people registered at the block party and soccer tournament. The best news was 12 people had accepted Christ.

“It’s been phenomenal what’s happening,” Gray said.

– Lisa Sergent