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Mark Emerson (right) led prayer for Sylvan Knobloch and his wife, Kathy, during a retirement celebration in November. Knobloch said he’s not certain exactly what shape life after retirement will take, other than he “wants to be a good grandparent.” The Knoblochs have two adult children and six grandkids.

Sylvan Knobloch, currently the Illinois Baptist State Association’s longest-tenured employee, will retire at the end of this year after 38 years in the areas of campus ministry, church health, and leadership development.

Knobloch was honored at a Nov. 27 retirement dinner in Springfield, where friends and co-workers celebrated his work over the years—and the nearly one million miles he has traveled as a consultant for IBSA churches.

Bob Dickerson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Marion, and a one-time co-worker of Knobloch’s at IBSA, spoke during the dinner and cited the familiar passage in Matthew—“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

A native of Waterloo, Ill., Knobloch was working as a pastor and volunteer campus minister in Bowling Green, Ohio, when he met then-IBSA campus ministry director Bob Blattner at a missions conference. A few months later, Blattner asked him to consider leading student ministry at Eastern Illinois University. Knobloch, who had been looking for a full-time campus ministry position, sensed God was opening a door.

He worked in Charleston from 1979 until 1988, when he moved with his wife, Kathy, and their two children to Carbondale to direct ministry at Southern Illinois University. In 1993, then-IBSA Executive Director Maurice Swinford offered Knobloch the opportunity to join the Springfield-based staff as director of discipleship, singles ministry, and senior ministry, a job move that later morphed into a long stint in the areas of church/minister relations and church health. In those capacities, Knobloch helped churches and pastors navigate conflict, negotiation, and reconciliation.

He helped establish a severance process by which churches can ease a difficult transition for their pastor. He also aided individual ministries through Rekindling the Call retreats designed to refresh and renew pastors and their spouses.

In 2016, he took on the area of leadership development and helped IBSA continue to establish processes to help churches identify emerging leaders and equip current leaders by making available a spiritual gift and personality profile.

On the eve of his retirement, Knobloch talked to the Illinois Baptist about the joys of 38 years of ministry, the challenges still facing Illinois Baptists, and the journey toward true understanding between pastors and churches.

Illinois Baptist: What have been the greatest joys of your years of ministry in Illinois?

Sylvan Knobloch: One of the most significant joys from my years of campus ministry has been seeing the numerous students from the Baptist Student Union continue to serve faithfully in their respective churches across Illinois.

Another great joy is witnessing church growth and renewal in congregations that I worked with over the years. It is gratifying to know I played a small part in their transition.

IB: How have you seen churches and communities in Illinois change over the past 38 years, as far as how churches do ministry?

SK: There is more diversity in both the types of pastoral leadership and the types of churches. A growing number of pastors today simultaneously serve two churches, while other churches have more than one campus.

The single-staff pastor is not a new phenomenon, but many of these pastors today are serving in declining and aging congregations. Often these churches are resistant to the changes needed to reach younger families.

IBSA is meeting this challenge by encouraging ministers to build relationships with other pastors and to support each other through cohorts.

IB: What are some other challenges facing IBSA leaders today?

SK: Pastors need relationships. Pastors and staff today often are not going away to one of the six SBC seminaries for education like they did 38 years ago. Today’s minister often chooses to take advantage of online seminary degrees; a decisive advantage is the minister remains in Illinois serving their churches. But on the negative side, these pastors miss out on the relationships that develop naturally on the seminary campus.

IB: If you could tell church members one thing about their pastor, what would it be?

SK: I would ask search committees to spend time getting to know their pastoral candidate before calling him. He will be doing life with you; therefore, consider the iceberg. Don’t merely look at what is above the waterline, but consider what is below, the unseen: character, ministry goals, and dreams. Church leaders should ask the new pastor how they can help him succeed.

IB: If you could tell a pastor one thing about his church, what would it be?

SK: I would encourage him to spend time with church leaders to understand their dreams and goals, both for their church and for their own lives. Pray for ways you can enable each leader to become all he/she is called to be.

The prerequisite for this is for the pastor to have self-awareness, to understand his emotions and their impact on others. In this way, he will become an effective leader.

Top 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

As the crowd thinned and the reception neared an end, one voice could be heard from a table near the chocolate fountain: “Come over here and take my picture so I can go home.”

Thurman Stewart was kidding; he wasn’t looking for press, just laughs. Surrounded by other volunteers in yellow hats and shirts, he and his wife, Carol, marked the end of another day watching kids while their parents attended the IBSA Annual Meeting.

The Stewarts are part of a group of Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers who provide free childcare every year. Several of them also travel in the summer to the national Southern Baptist Convention to serve families there. And they have a mobile Disaster Relief childcare unit, so they can help kids and parents in crisis across the country.

At the Crowne Plaza in Springfield, their classrooms were stationed on the third floor, one level above the ballroom where the business meeting took place. Downstairs, messengers to the 2014 Annual Meeting adopted several resolutions, including one on including younger leaders in church and denominational life. Among several “resolved” statements, the document encouraged IBSA churches to pray for, identify and train young leaders, “and to release joyfully
young leaders into ministry.”

Callout_1113_edited-1But when they’re released, what kinds of ministries will these young leaders be looking for? Certainly, some will be pastors. Some will serve on committees and trustee boards. Some will lead mission teams to the other side of the world. And some, hopefully, will join the Stewarts’ ranks on the third floor. Or look for similarly vital roles that happen behind the scenes.

George Jones sang, “Who’s gonna fill their shoes,” about country music legends who are hard to replace. No one’s ever going to be like Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash, Jones sings. But who’s next? “Who’s gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you?” he asks in the chorus.

The Stewarts and their fellow volunteers are the Illinois Baptist version of those country music superstars. Giving their hearts to work that isn’t front and center, ministering to kids and families and underserved communities. Perhaps young leaders can make the greatest contribution to church and denominational life by emulating the example set by the Stewarts and so many others.

Theirs are big shoes to fill.

Carbondale_CMD

Children’s Ministry Day volunteers deliver goodies to a hospital in Carbondale, one of nine locations where kids served on March 15. Photo by Joanna Samples

GUEST POST | Sarah Richardson

On the sunny day of March 15, children from all over Illinois participated in Children’s Ministry Day, sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association. The object of the event was to involve kids in ministry by doing service projects around the local community.

Nearly 1,110 kids, leaders and volunteers gathered in nine cities around the state for the event.

One of the host churches was Lakeland Baptist in Carbondale. The service projects were arranged beforehand by Lakeland church members. They involved simple services that made a difference for people and businesses around town.

One project involved delivering handmade cards and bags to a pediatric wing at the local hospital. Along with chaperones, the children made crafts in a large room at the church. Preparation made the project not only fun, but meaningful. The cheerful children wrote Bible verses on the cards, as well as drew their own unique art. It was obvious the kids were involved and excited to help others.

Some children made chocolate chip cookies for firefighters and policemen. When they delivered the cookies, the firefighters gave a tour of the station. The children learned how the honorable people work to keep people safe.

Other projects included helping the elderly, preparing food at a soup kitchen and working at a horse stable. After work was done, the children returned to Lakeland and enjoyed popcorn, soda and a mission trivia contest. While sharing testimonies, the children enthusiastically reflected on why they do missions. The closing ceremony reminded everyone that Jesus is the reason for our mission.

Children’s Ministry Day teaches kids that though they are young, they can make a difference by the grace and power of God. Not only does it bless the volunteers and the kids, it helps the people who work at the places where they served. It is a great way to teach children about missions, helping your community, and ultimately glorifying God.

Sarah Richardson, 14, is a member of Lakeland Baptist in Carbondale.