Archives For spiritual awakening

Letty and Luis Olmos of Iglesia Principe de Paz, Springfield, worship alongside other New Awakening Evangelism Conference attenders in Decatur.

Letty and Luis Olmos of Iglesia Principe de Paz, Springfield, worship
alongside other New Awakening Evangelism Conference attenders in Decatur.


Decatur, Ill. |
“I’ve seen God move,” said Baptist evangelism specialist Joel Southerland, “but I haven’t seen a movement of God in my lifetime.”

Spiritual revival and awakening—the kind of movement only God can bring—was the focus of IBSA’s New Awakening Evangelism Conference March 27-28 at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur.

At a time when baptisms and worship attendance are in decline in many churches, and culture seems to be moving farther from God, the need for awakening is real. A church—the Church—cannot revive itself, speakers emphasized during the conference. But some responsibility for revival does fall on Christians—to prepare for a movement of God, to be desperate for it, and to provide a verbal witness for the hope they have in him.

“Revival changes God’s people,” said Southeastern Seminary professor Alvin Reid. “When God shows up you are not the same.”

Evangelism_speakersOne of the major issues New Awakening speakers addressed is the declining number of young people Southern Baptist churches are reaching with the gospel. In 1972, there were 137,000 youth baptisms in Baptist churches, Reid said in a breakout on next generation ministry. Today, there are 70,000 or fewer per year.

“The real problem with that is that there are more teens today on the planet than there were in 1972,” said IBSA Evangelism Director Tim Sadler. “So, we’re reaching less, and there’s more of them.”

We haven’t seen a movement that touched young people since the “Jesus people” movement of the early 1970s, Reid said at the conference. That period of awakening was characterized by the Holy Spirit’s activity in and among churches—he was the main character in revival, just as he was in the Book of Acts.

“What about your ministry can only be explained as a Holy Spirit movement?” Reid asked. One man in the audience replied, “Yeah, git ‘er done!”

The same Holy Spirit that drew people in Acts 2 and in 1972 still draws people to God today, Sadler said. The gospel is the same, and the vehicle for communicating the message—the church—is the same. The issue is like someone once said, Sadler told the Illinois Baptist: “We don’t have a strategy problem, we have a sharing problem.”

But sharing the gospel is the calling of every Christian. “If you really know Jesus and He’s really changed you, try not to witness for ten years,” Reid challenged his breakout session audience in Decatur. “If you’re successful, come back and tell me what kind of Jesus you know.”

Make us desperate, Lord
If Christians haven’t seen a movement of God in their lifetimes, will they recognize it when it happens? In other words, when we talk about revival and awakening, what are looking for?

Sadler defines it this way:

“For me, a movement of God would be an extended period where the people of God are so moved by the presence and power of God, that they leave the confines of the church building, and they impact the city in such a way that God’s Spirit draws unbelievers to faith.”

It’s pervasive, he added, a turning of the spiritual tide. Undeniable. So why haven’t we seen it? Speakers at the New Awakening Conference outlined two possible reasons: “skill fade” in the area of evangelism, and a lack of desperation for revival.

Joel Southerland compared many church members and leaders to pilots who have lost their skills after relying too heavily for too long on autopilot. “Pilots are accustomed to watching things happen and reacting, instead of becoming proactive,” said Southerland, executive director for evangelism strategies at the North American Mission Board.

The church has fallen victim to the same phenomenon. “We have put our churches on autopilot” when it comes to evangelism, he said.

Dennis Nunn, founder of Every Believer a Witness Ministries, differentiated between the “come and see” evangelism model of the Old Testament, and the “go and tell” model in the New Testament.

“I believe we have come to accept what our church members will not do in evangelism because we have accepted the Old Testament approach,” said Nunn. Our witness will become less and less effective, he continued, because we think simply inviting people to church is evangelism.

And then there’s the matter of how much we want revival. The reason the Great Commission probably won’t be realized in our lifetime, Pastor Johnny Hunt said during the conference, is because we live for pleasure, not for the Word of God.

“Lord, forgive us,” said a conference attender from the Chicago suburbs, in response to Hunt’s words.

He continued, referencing Isaiah’s encounter in the temple: “It is not until you see God for who he is that you will see yourself for who you are and others for who they are,” and thus their need for God.

“We don’t witness because we haven’t seen God,” Hunt said. “We have not experienced revival because the church is not even close to desperate.”

Lord, forgive us.

God’s people are desperate for revival, Sadler said, when nothing but God will do; when we stop compartmentalizing our lives into church and work and family and hobbies, and let God be God over all of it.

“We need God to superintend every aspect of our lives,” he said. “It’s like Ephesians 3, where Paul prays that they would experience the fullness of Christ [and] be filled with his presence, so that it spills over into every aspect of our lives. So that we see our neighborhood differently.

“It’s our mission field.”

Reported by Lisa Sergent and Eric Reed for the Illinois Baptist newspaper

Chicago leaders convened a one-day prayer meeting and equipping conference in January at Lighthouse Fellowship Baptist Church in Frankfort.

Chicago leaders convened a one-day prayer meeting and equipping conference in January at Lighthouse Fellowship Baptist Church in Frankfort.

HEARTLAND | Eric Reed

First Baptist Church of Paxton has a newfound calling as prayer intercessors. “Christ’s church in America is in desperate need of spiritual revival and renewal,” said Pastor Bob Stilwell. “We need to be awakened from our comfort and complacency in our salvation. We need to be shaken from our evangelistic lethargy.”

In January, Stilwell led his congregation in a concert of prayer similar to the prayer for spiritual awakening at the IBSA Annual Meeting in November. The Paxton church is one of many in Illinois joining a national call to prayer, including more than 30 in metro Chicago.

“As I prayed in preparation of God’s message to our congregation for the week focusing on interceding, the Lord revealed His vision for us as an intercessory church,” Stilwell said. “God has begun the process of renewing hearts, changing attitudes and giving new life to our church.”

The call to prayer comes ahead of the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Columbus, June 10-11. SBC President Ronnie Floyd picked up past president Fred Luter’s call for revival. “Our greatest need is a mighty awakening in the nation. This has to be preceded with a strong sense of personal revival and church revival,” Floyd said.

At a meeting of SBC leaders and editors in Orange Beach, Alabama, last week, Floyd said registration for the Ohio convention is up 5% compared to this time last year. That is significant, especially for a meeting held outside the Deep South, and Floyd is encouraged. But, he said commitments to attend, made in the next 30 days, “are critical.”

“Are (Southern Baptists) really in agreement that the number one need in America is spiritual awakening?” Paraphrasing the theme of the annual meeting, he said, “We need visible union, we need to lock our arms together, and we need to extraordinarily pray for spiritual awakening.”

In metro Chicago, more than 75 people gathered at Lighthouse Fellowship Baptist Church in Frankfort for an all-day prayer and equipping conference in late January. The prayer coordinator for Chicago Metro Baptist Association, Cheryl Dorsey, urged attenders to seek God’s direction.

“I used to tell God what I wanted and needed until I had a time when I didn’t know what to pray. I learned to pray, ‘God, how am I going to pray about this?’” Dorsey said. “It was as if God said, ‘When are you going to find out what I want you to pray?’”

IBSA’s Dennis Conner, church planting director for the Northeast region, told one breakout session, “We say with our mouth that we trust God, but in our hearts, we trust ourselves. Our churches need a sense of desperation.”

That feeling of great need is common to people responding to the call to prayer. “We need to be filled with a sense of urgency in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ—the unfailing hope that only he offers to a hopeless world,” Stilwell said. “At FBC Paxton, we’re praying for the Holy Spirit to
bring about such a renewal in our own hearts and the hearts of all of believers throughout Illinois, across the nation and throughout the world.”

And from Floyd: “Why don’t we call on God to do…what we wring our hands about because it hasn’t happened?”

My best prayerwalking technique came from second graders.

PRAYER | Cheryl Dorsey

Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final post in a series on prayer and spiritual awakening. Read the previous posts: 2015: The Year of Prayer, Revise us, O Lord, and 15 prayer requests for your city.

One of my most profound prayerwalks took place with a pair of 7-year-olds. On that particular Saturday at our church, everyone had already paired up for the half-hour walk through our community of 500 homes. Leaving me with my son, Joseph, and a friend’s grandson, Antoine.

On school days, waking Joseph up was an ordeal. But on prayerwalking Saturdays, he beat me at getting up and ready to head to church. Amazing! We use the simple strategy – walking the neighborhoods around our church in two’s and three’s – to identify needs in our community and pray on the spot for people we encounter, that they might come to know Christ.

Joseph, Antoine and I began to walk three blocks around the church. I launched into a powerful prayer: “Lord, let your salvation come to this house! Send your power, Father. Change hearts, O God!” When I paused to allow the babies to get a word in edgewise, I heard this:

“Lord, help this little boy to help his mommy clean the front yard.”

And another saying, “Jesus, please give the little boy in this house a new Big Wheel because his is broken.”

And then, “Jesus, help them get these beer bottles out of the yard. They shouldn’t be drinking, Lord! Help them to stop.”

Even though I was towering over my prayerwalking partners, I felt seven inches tall.

That morning, the Holy Spirit taught me what prayerwalking is all about. He used Joseph and Antoine to teach me again what it means to pray “on site with insight,” which is how we encourage all our prayerwalking teams. Here’s what it looks like for us:

Each session starts with a 15-minute meeting at the church. This is when we distribute prayer guides, go over prayerwalking basics, and point everyone to a focal Scripture that will set the stage for the next hour.

We send pray-ers out from the church in two’s and three’s, instructing them to go as far as they can and be back in half an hour. As they go, we urge them to pray “on site with insight.” That’s God’s insight and not their own.

Prayerwalkers pray as they’re prompted by the things they encounter. Every street is different. Our prayers should feel conversational, low-key, but powered from on high. If folks across or down the street can hear us, we’re doing it wrong.

Each person in the groups takes a turn praying in short paragraphs, not soliloquies. I like it to making a prayer quilt – everyone brings a piece. If we encounter people along the way, we introduce ourselves and ask if they have any prayer needs. If they say yes, we ask permission to pray for them right there. Or, we take the names and requests back to the church to add to our prayer list for the week.

During our walk, we may pray, quote Scripture, or sing, all as the Spirit prompts the pray-ers. Once everyone is back at the church, we take 15-20 minutes to recap the experience. This is very powerful! Prayerwalking teams share what they encountered and how the Lord had them praying, as well as names they’re adding to the prayer list. As the teams report, a scribe records the headlines on a flip chart, chalkboard, or poster.

The Lord reveals his awesomeness as our teams often see a theme emerge. Even though they prayed on different streets, they see how God loves the community, and works in us through the Holy Spirit to “pray things out” over our neighbors. The prayerwalkers recognize that God has a plan, that they can hear his voice, and that he can use them to bless his people.

That first day I prayerwalked with Joseph and Antoine, I witnessed our youngest pray-ers interceding from their perspective. They prayed for the practical and immediate needs of the house we were passing by, and they hit some spiritual pay dirt. From that point on, they were my favorite prayerwalking partners that summer. I mention them often when I teach, saying kids pray differently because they see things from a different level.

They blessed me, and showed me that children have a place in our prayerwalking ministry. You don’t need to pontificate, just walk, see and pray.

Cheryl Dorsey is a prayer coordinator and pastor’s wife at Beacon Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago Heights. She also serves as prayer leader for Chicago Metro Baptist Association. This column first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Resource magazine, online at http://resource.IBSA.org.

HEARTLAND | Charles Lyons

Editor’s note: This is the third post in a series on prayer and spiritual awakening. Read “2015: The Year of Prayer,” and “Revise us, O Lord,” at ib2news.org.

A mid-1800’s revival that started with a small prayer meeting in New York City resulted in thousands upon thousands of people trusting in Christ. We need such a movement today, perhaps using several ideas from this list. Use personally, or with family devotions. Share it with your church prayer group of Bible study group. Share on Facebook.

City HallLead your church to pray for one item each Sunday for 15 Sundays. Use each one for a church prayer focus for a week each.

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and beseech the Lord on its behalf. For in its welfare you will also have welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)

1. Invite the Holy Spirit to teach you to pray as He helps you to pray.

2. Pray for your pastor – his spiritual health, his marriage, his family, his vision, wisdom, and spiritual power. Ask God to enhance his ability to lead your church to reach your city or town.

3. Pray for your church family to enthusiastically engage in serving your community.

4. Pray the same for the pastors in your city.

5. Pray for the newest church you know and the oldest church.

6. Pray that your church family will impact your city or town in 2015 as never before.

7. Pray for your mayor – a sense of accountability to God, humble acknowledgement of need for wisdom, relationship to God, and desire for righteousness and integrity.

8. Pray the same for your police chief.

9. Pray the same for your fire chief.

10. Pray the same for your city council or your local elected official.

11. Pray the same for your superintendent of schools.

12. Pray for the schools closest to you, the high school and its principal, the grade school and its principal.

13. Pray for those who work in the healthcare system in your community – administrators, doctors, nurses, technicians.

14. Pray for your closest neighbors or friends to be saved and be fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ.

15. Pray for a merchant or clerk you interact with on a regular basis.

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Charles Lyons pastors Armitage Baptist Church in Chicago.

PRAYER | Phil Miglioratti

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of posts on prayer and spiritual awakening. Read the first, “2015: The Year of Prayer,” here.

Read the headlines in Christianity Today and you’ll being praying for a revival. Read Time magazine and you’ll plead with heaven for a spiritual awakening.

From the church, we have reports of plummeting Sunday attendance: Polls once claiming 40% or more are now reporting a more accurate 17%. And the statistics about disappearing youth are even more appalling.

Plant in dried cracked mudAnd in the culture: States are redefining marriage. Economic collapse is rooted in a corrupt banking system. And for more examples of why we are desperate for a spiritual awakening, we need only to watch the evening news.

The Church needs to be revived. Not merely your congregation, but the Church across North America. A revival that spills out of our sanctuaries and brings spiritual awakening to the tributaries that feed and fuel our culture. Education. Business. Media. Family. Health Care. Entertainment.

But have we considered this: What if God is responding to our prayers for a revival and our pleas for an awakening, but we are failing to notice?

What if God is answering our calls for reviving the Church by His work of revising the Church? Could the revising work of the Holy Spirit be a preparing of the Church for some kind of non-traditional impact on our culture? Should we be looking for new ways the Church is influencing communities with God’s good news?

Since the 1980’s leaders have commented on how several trends have brought correction and health to the Church.

  • Worship has become, well, worship. We are learning to sing songs as an expression of praise and petition rather than as performance or for our entertainment.
  • In many congregations, prayer has matured from reciting lists of sick members to listening to the Spirit; from me, myself, and I, to the least, the lonely, and the lost.
  • Church planting has become a top priority in a growing number of evangelical denominations. The churches my daughters take my grandkids to are new and vibrant, unhindered by traditions and systems designed for 19th century cultures.
  • Cities are no longer merely zip codes. God has raised up “city reachers,” leaders with a citywide vision who call the Body of Christ in a community or city to serve better together in collaborative evangelism. The “100 Cities Invitation” hopes to catalyze acts of kindness and justice to demonstrate the Good News in 100 cities in 2016.
  • That same year, RESET, a new initiative led by under-35 leaders, will call young people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for repentance and revival. Could spiritual awakening of their generation be far behind?

In all this, I see God answering our pleas for revival by revising the Church in a Romans 12:2 way. Our methodologies are being transformed by the Holy Spirit’s renewing of our minds. We are rethinking the need to reconnect evangelism and discipleship. Even very small congregations realize they need to get our of their seats and into the streets with the prayer-care-share lifestyle of Christ-followers. We read more and more of a new generation of leaders who bring good news in very different ways that relate to our radically changed culture.

I see signs that God is responding to our “revive us again” supplication and the seeds He is planting for spiritual awakening. What signs do you see?

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Phil Miglioratti heads the National Pastors’ Prayer Network and serves as IBSA’s prayer ministries consultant. This column first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Resource magazine, online at http://resource.IBSA.org.

2015: The year of prayer

Meredith Flynn —  January 1, 2015

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts on prayer. In 2014, Illinois Baptists focused on prayer and spiritual awakening at their November Annual Meeting. The national Southern Baptist Convention also will mark a Call to Prayer this year, detailed by Ronnie Floyd during his few few months as SBC President.)

Eric Reed | Our IBSA Annual Meeting focused on prayer, as part of a statewide call to revival and spiritual awakening. Using Isaiah 6:1-8 as our inspiration, moving through this cycle of prayer:

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1. We lament the sins of our state. As Isaiah said, after witnessing the holiness of the Lord in the temple, “Woe is me…I am undone.”

2. We repent of apathy among believers and ask God to send revival to our churches. The angel affirmed to Isaiah, “Your sins are forgiven.”

3. We intercede for the needs of the 13 million people of Illinois and especially the 8 million or more who are lost, asking God for spiritual awakening in our state and across the United States. The Lord asked Isaiah, “Who will go?”

4. We commit to pray for their salvation and to minister in the name of Jesus. And He waits to hear, “Here I am. Send me.”

The four video collages from the IBSA Concert of Prayer (held during November’s Annual Meeting) are available for use in your church. Download them here.

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Eric Reed is IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Communications team, and editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

And what the trends mean for your church

An Illinois Baptist team report

"Imagine if you could spend 10 focused minutes each Sunday morning in extraordinary prayer on two major needs locally, in your church, in America, or across the world.” SBC President Ronnie Floyd’s “Call to Prayer” that began at the Annual Meeting in Baltimore now turns to Sunday mornings, starting with one worship service in January.

SBC President Ronnie Floyd’s “Call to Prayer” that began at the Annual Meeting in Baltimore now turns to Sunday mornings, starting with one worship service in January.

1. Churches respond to “Call to Prayer”
“It is past time for us to prioritize prayer personally and in the church,” SBC President Ronnie Floyd wrote on his blog in early December. “For far too long, we have seen what we can do; it is time for us to see what God can do. This can only happen when we pray.”

Floyd’s continued call to prayer—leading to the June 2015 SBC Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio—began about two years ago with a series of meetings for pastors and church leaders. Floyd began quoting famed Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards who called believers to “extraordinary prayer” for revival in America.

“God’s people will be given a spirit of prayer,” Edwards wrote in 1746, “inspiring them to come together and pray in an extraordinary manner, that He would help his Church, show mercy to mankind in general, pour out his Spirit, revive His work, and advance His kingdom in the world as He promised.”

Today’s growing urgency in prayer coincided with planning for the 2014 IBSA Annual Meeting in November. “We will either hunger for God’s righteousness out of desperation or…out of devastation,” IBSA President Odis Weaver told messengers. The November meeting peaked in a Concert of Prayer for Spiritual Awakening in Illinois and across the U.S.

“I believe we need to cry out to God for spiritual awakening, and for revival in our churches,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. He led more than 400 pastors and church leaders through a prayer cycle lamenting the lost condition of people in Illinois, repenting of apathy and ineffectiveness, interceding for spiritual awakening, and commiting to pursuit of revival in our churches.

Afterward, many pastors said they would lead similar prayer events when they returned home.

Now Floyd is asking churches to dedicate an entire Sunday morning service to prayer in January: “Just imagine if 100 churches, 500 churches, or several thousand Southern Baptist churches would turn a Sunday morning into insuring that Jesus’ House would be a genuine house of prayer for all the nations.
Just imagine what could happen if, from this point forward, you could spend 10 focused minutes each Sunday morning in extraordinary prayer on two major needs locally, in your church, in America, or across the world.”

Jonathan Edwards imagined the outcome. He called it the “revival of religion.” We would call it “advancement of the Gospel”—the salvation of lost souls, renewal of our churches, and restoration of moral sensibility to the nation.

In your church: SBC churches will likely give prayer a higher profile in 2015, but what are we praying for? How will we sustain prayer in our congregations as more than a once-in-a-while emphasis? Consider a Concert of Prayer in January. As Floyd wrote, “If we do not plan to pray, we will not pray!

2. Evangelicals cope with minority status
Say goodbye to Mayberry. The culture is shifting. What was once called good is now called evil, and vice versa, just as Isaiah said of his own times. The majority opinion in the U.S. approves of same-sex marriage, and many other sexual matters—once outside the norm—are being accepted by society at large. But, while the morals and mores are changing, Southern Baptists are not.

We still stand on the Word.

“One of the biggest challenges for conservative Christians is moving beyond a Bible Belt mentality, or a moral majority mentality,” said Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, “and seeing ourselves instead as in many cases a prophetic minority speaking to a larger culture about things that matter.”

Moore called on pastors and church leaders to “prepare people for what the future holds, when Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality aren’t part of the cultural consensus but are seen to be strange and freakish and even subversive.”

“The Bible Belt is collapsing,” Moore has concluded.

The main evidence of that in Illinois is same-sex marriage which became legal June 1. Churches, at one point concerned they would be forced to perform
gay weddings, instead began addressing their bylaws as means of protection.

Another response by evangelicals is to make the church a place of refuge, said John Stonestreet, commentator for Breakpoint Ministries. “People who are enslaved to porn and suffer different forms of brokenness need to be able to come to the church and find answers. The church needs to offer hope and solutions. We need to say, ‘Here’s an option. Here’s the hope; here’s the gospel; here’s the truth; here’s Jesus; and here’s the cross.’”

Moore concurs. “We must have a voice that speaks to the conscience, a voice that is splattered with blood. We are ministers…not of condemnation, the devil can do that, we are ministers of reconciliation, which means that we will speak hard words…truthful words to address the conscience, even when that costs us everything.”

In your church: Church leaders are ministering from a new vantage point, but with the same apologetic. The challenge will be to confront cultural ills in a way that is biblically faithful and yet winsome. The message hasn’t changed, but some in our society today need to hear the truth truly spoken in love.

At a meeting in Asia, young missionaries surround new IMB President David Platt to pray for him as he seeks to mobilize churches. Photo by Hugh Johnson/IMB

At a meeting in Asia, young missionaries surround new IMB President David Platt to pray for him as he seeks to mobilize churches. Photo by Hugh Johnson/IMB

3. Young leaders urge peers to “re-engage”
The evidence has been building for a few years now: young Baptists are back. Or on their way back, at least.

They’re more visible at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meetings, and, in 2014, at two meetings on the gospel and marriage hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. They’re also beginning to look remarkably similar in age to the leaders of several of the denomination’s entities. At the ERLC’s October national conference, 125 young leaders had dinner with President Russell Moore and the heads of the SBC’s two missions agencies, Kevin Ezell and David Platt. At four years, Ezell is the longest-tenured at his post; Moore took the ERLC reins in 2013, and Platt was elected in August.

“There’s never been a better time in my lifetime to re-engage as a Southern Baptist than right now,” Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, said at the meeting. “I really believe that God is up to something very special in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Many young Baptists likely would cite the election of Platt, 36, as one of the highlights of 2014. Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen, himself 38, blogged that when he announced Platt’s election during a September chapel service, students (and faculty and staff) broke into applause for the missiologist and author of bestseller “Radical.”

More than 1,000 miles away in Richmond, Va., young missionary appointees gathered around Platt shortly after his election to congratulate him and tell him how “Radical” and his messages on reaching the nations had helped lead them to the international mission field.

After Platt’s election, some Baptist leaders expressed concern that his Birmingham congregation, The Church at Brook Hills, gave a lower amount through traditional Cooperative Program channels, instead sending a large portion of their gifts directly to the SBC Executive Committee and International Mission Board.

But even with those concerns, established leaders affirmed Platt’s ability to mobilize young people to share the gospel to the ends of the earth. Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson noted it in a blog post published shortly after Platt’s election, calling for “thanksgiving to God for the presence of a young leader who has obviously garnered the hearts of the younger generation and who will have the opportunity to lead them to a commitment to the world mission enterprise.”

One blogger put it a little more plainly, noting Platt may be just the right voice to deliver tough love to would-be male missionaries outnumbered by female “Journeymen” appointed through the IMB.

“Lend your voice to addressing the issue of young males wimping out of Journeyman service,” William Thornton wrote at SBC Voices. “These guys think you walk on water, Mr. Radical. Give ‘em both barrels on this and see what happens.”

In your church: Look for increased excitement from your own young leaders now that the authors and speakers they’ve followed for several years are in prominent positions. Be prepared for them to want to go to the hard places for ministry and missions. “That’s where we hear young couples saying they want to go, that they want to be radically obedient to what God has called us to do for the nations,” said IMB trustee chairman David Uth. “The passion is there.”

4. Growing persecution: From “the Nun” to “resurrection people”
Before Ebola dominated headlines, another one-word threat struck fear in the hearts of many around the world—and even here. The war of terror and persecution waged by ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was the story of the year earlier in 2014.

ISIS chased religious minorities high into the mountains of Iraq. They filmed beheadings and broadcast them as warnings to the rest of the world. And they stirred many in the Western world to stand with the persecuted church. The Arabic letter “Nun” was used on social media pages to symbolize solidarity with those persecuted for their faith in “the Nazarene,” or Jesus.

It’s not just a problem in the Middle East. In Nigeria, 1,505 Christians were killed for their faith in the first seven months of 2014, according to non-profit Jubilee Campaign. North Korea again topped Open Doors’ list of most persecuted countries, highlighted by the imprisonment of American Kenneth Bae, who was finally released in November. Others, including Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran, remain in prison.

Closer to home, Christians felt a different kind of persecution. Businesses and non-profits faced government fines for not providing abortion-causing contraceptives. The mayor of Houston, Texas, subpoenaed the sermons of pastors who were against the city’s pro-LGBT ordinance.

Christian leaders here urged believers to remember who they belong to. “The answer to the decline of religious freedom and the change in the moral climate is not found in waging incessant cultural wars, filled with rage at our changing culture,” said LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer. “Simply put, you can’t hate a people and reach a people at the same time.”

Instead, he urged Christians, “Let’s live like the resurrection people, adorning the gospel with lives of grace. Even in our passion to defend freedoms increasingly at risk, let’s remind ourselves this generation is desperately in need of the love of Christ, lived and shared.”

In your church: Be prepared to think globally about persecution. How can your church go beyond your normal prayer times to intercede for those under threat for their faith?

Be alert to what government bodies are doing. Speak out when religious liberties are threatened. The IRS prohibits churches from supporting candidates, but not from speaking on issues related to faith.

SBC’s Frank Page speaks frequently about the future of the Cooperative Program, painting a hopeful picture despite years of declining offerings. Photo by Morris Abernathy

SBC’s Frank Page speaks frequently about the future of the Cooperative Program, painting a hopeful picture despite years of declining offerings. Photo by Morris Abernathy

5. Cooperative missions for a new generation

Most Baptists agreed the Cooperative Program, the denomination’s chief method of funding missions and ministry, is the best way for churches together to pursue the Great Commission. But how to fix the CP, plateaued and trending slightly downward for years, is up for debate. The election of David Platt as IMB president revealed how his church and other large churches have bypassed their state conventions, even though CP gifts for national and international missions are supposed to be routed first through the state level.

“I have heard some people say, ‘The big problem is that the younger generation simply isn’t educated about CP,’” blogged pastor J.D. Greear after Platt’s election. “That may be true for a small percentage of people, but the bigger problem is probably that they are educated about it. The more they find out about CP giving, the less they are motivated to give.”

Meanwhile, blogger Bart Barber spoke up for the reliability of the system itself, calling those who disagree with the way CP funds are allocated to greater involvement in SBC life. “…Within the Cooperative Program approach you can pursue any ministry, reallocate any budget, or adopt any methodology that you can convince enough of your fellow churches and fellow pastors to adopt,” Barber posted at SBC Voices.

“Bring on the changes! Make your proposals! Go to the floor of the SBC Annual Meeting! Attend your state convention meeting! Advocate tirelessly and fearlessly for the improvements you’d like to see. Whatever they are and however much adaptation they would require, I’m betting that almost none of it would actually require any changes at all in the Cooperative Program.”

SBC Executive Committee CEO Frank Page continued his campaign for increased giving through the Cooperative Program, touring the nation (including Chicago) to talk with younger pastors and leaders. “I’ll drop the Cooperative Program if you can show me something else that long-term is effective and engages every church concurrently and consistently in an Acts 1:8 strategy,” Page has said on several occasions. “Show it to me, and I’ll support it….But I
haven’t found it yet.”

In your church: More conversation about CP in the national SBC could mean it’s time for a refresher course in your local church. A class for young or new Baptists is an opportunity to teach about why Baptists give cooperatively. One big reason: CP helps missionaries focus on their mission field, instead of fundraising. Another reason: CP helps the local church have a balanced missions strategy, supporting work on all their Acts 1:8 mission fields.

-With reporting from Baptist Press

Read all of the December 22 Illinois Baptist at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.