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This past June, Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines put together a task force charged with recommending how we might deal with the alarming decline in baptisms in our Convention. What a daunting task it is. Baptisms have declined precipitously for the past 17 years. We have gone from more than 400,000 baptisms per year, to less than 300,000. The needs in America are greater than ever, but our effectiveness in meeting those needs has plunged. This ought to greatly concern all of us who care about the Great Commission and this land in which we live.

The task force’s first meeting, held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, was both disquieting and encouraging. We stared the terrible problem of lostness in the teeth. It is daunting. But we prayed long and hard to the God who is greater than our problems. Dr. Paige Patterson, chair of our group, called us to prolonged periods of prayer and seeking the Lord’s guidance. The Lord’s power and direction, after all, is what we most need. These times of prayer were so refreshing to my soul.

We heard from all the members of the task force—and there are some outstanding people on this team. Each member spoke about some aspect of evangelism. I was moved by their passion and insight and clarity. We began the process of thinking through what might be recommended to our churches at the convention next June. Subsequent meetings will begin to hone in on those possible recommendations more directly.

The SBC’s Evangelism Task Force has a big challenge: Helping churches recapture their evangelistic zeal.

Two things have become crystal clear to me. I speak for no one on the task force but myself, but these two things seem obvious to me. First, we have lost our focus on leading people to faith in Jesus Christ. Second, we need a renewed passion for evangelism. I will give my thoughts briefly to each:

1. We have lost our focus on leading people to faith in Jesus Christ. Evangelism is hard. It takes work and effort and intentionality. It doesn’t happen without commitment to it. Evangelism, it seems, is the first thing that goes when a church faces controversy or problems or challenges. It doesn’t happen unless it is a concerted focus in our lives and churches.

Dr. Gaines uses the term “soul winning.” It comes from the Bible passage I learned in the old KJV as a boy: “He that winneth souls is wise.” We don’t hear that term so often anymore. Come to think of it, we don’t hear about evangelism in any form as much anymore. We are far more likely to hear about church planting or discipleship or worship—all good and important things. But evangelism is spoken of less often in our Baptist circles, it seems to me.

I know this in my own life: If sharing the gospel is not high on my radar it is not practiced in my life. I can fill my life with meetings and sermon preparation and dealing with a myriad of problems. And, if I am not conscious about it, I can forget about sharing the gospel with those around me. Somehow, evangelism must again become a focus of my church and your church, of my life and your life.

2. We need a renewed passion for evangelism. Passion is a powerful force. Passion changes our thoughts, our dreams, and our actions. It changes our lives and it changes our churches. Let’s get passionate about sharing the message of the gospel. Let’s get passionate about seeing lost people saved. Let’s be so passionate about evangelism that it changes our thoughts, our dreams, and our actions.

I want more passion for evangelism in my personal life and in my church family. As a pastor, I want my church to know that I am sharing my faith and I want my church members to join me in sharing the gospel. Without evangelistic passion, we will just go about the routine business of the church without doing the primary business of the church!

Perhaps that passion will show itself in strategic decisions or training programs or events. But passion always makes a difference. Let’s pray for more evangelistic passion personally and corporately.

Will you pray for the Evangelism Task Force when you think of it? It will take a work of God to turn our Convention to greater effectiveness. But by God’s power we can see that change made. My prayer is that God will use our group toward that end.

Doug Munton is pastor of First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The road ahead

ib2newseditor —  October 30, 2017

A tough but exciting journey awaits us

Postcard art w adventure inserted

If we were to drive west from Illinois, whether along Interstate 70 from St. Louis, 72 from Springfield, or 80 from Chicago, the experience would be largely the same. We would continue in a long, straight line for a very long time, rolling over a few hills and rivers in Missouri or Iowa before settling into the even longer, even straighter, seemingly eternal plains of Kansas or Nebraska and eastern Colorado. Then we would see the mountains.

Imagine what early pioneers must have thought when the amazing barrier of the Rocky Mountains first appeared on the horizon. No doubt many of them turned south or north for a while, hoping to find a way around. They knew the experience, equipment, and skills that had carried them across the slowly elevating plains would not take them over those mountains. They would need to find a pass, a way through. And even that journey would be like none they had faced before.

As we Southern Baptists in Illinois now approach our state’s bicentennial year, our journey is much the same. We have been on a long, flat path for years—in number of churches, in baptisms, in church plants, in giving, and in most measures of church involvement and growth. That’s not a criticism. It’s just a description of our recent journey.

Along the way, hardly noticeable until just recently, the altitude has gradually increased and the climb has grown steeper. So many cultural dynamics have grown counter to Christian faith, and perhaps especially to Baptist faith. We too can turn to the left or to the right for a while. But to truly advance from the plains of our status quo up into the mountains our mission now faces, I believe we must dig deep and find a new, pioneering spirit.

Go to new places
In Illinois Baptist mission life, going new places means taking the gospel to the counties and cities and communities where Baptist or even evangelical churches don’t yet exist or have a strong presence. It means church planting.

IBSA churches have numbered right around 1,000 for decades, even while planting around 20 new churches a year. With those one thousand churches baptizing between four and five new believers each, we reach about 4,000 to 5,000 people per year. Yet Illinois has 13 million people, and at least 8 million of them don’t claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And most of them do not live near our existing churches. To leave the flatland of our status quo and reach the lost people of Illinois, we must increase and accelerate the number of new churches being started. We must place a gospel witness near them.

Pioneering Spirit Challenge #1: Will your church adopt at least one of the 200 places where a new church is needed? Your commitment can be to pray, or to partner with others to get that church started, or to be the primary planting church. Will you pray, partner, or plant?

Engage new people
Establishing healthy, new churches in the places where they are needed is one important commitment of a pioneering spirit. The first Baptists arrived in Illinois during a time when it was extremely difficult and even dangerous just to survive and eke out a living. Yet they considered it a priority to share the gospel and to start new Baptist churches. Four of those churches that were in existence when Illinois became a state in 1818 are still serving their communities today!

But being blessed—and burdened—with a pioneering spirit also leads churches, both new and established, to intentionally and consistently engage new people with the gospel message. With a sense of urgency, they will evangelize.

Sadly, it’s possible even for a well-intentioned church to lose its passion for evangelism, and become more of a church of settlers than a church of pioneers. They worship, and study, and fellowship, and even serve one another and the community. But very little energy goes into seeking and saving the lost.

Consider this: The almost 1,000 IBSA churches baptized about 4,000 people last year, four per church on average. But over 300 churches reported no baptisms at all. The remaining churches that reported baptisms averaged seven each. If non-baptizing churches simply reached the same number of people with the gospel that baptizing churches did, 7,000 people would come to know Christ next year. And just imagine what would happen if the churches already baptizing seven or more started baptizing monthly!

By intentionally shifting their focus toward evangelism, churches that have settled can become pioneering churches again.

Pioneering Spirit Challenge #2: Will your church commit to turning itself inside out into your community, training its members to intentionally have gospel conversations and evangelistic events, and asking God to increase the number of baptisms you see each year? Will you do whatever it takes to become a more frequently baptizing church?

Make new sacrifices
Going to new places and engaging new people is costly. It’s one reason so many stay where they are—and settle. Many early pioneers packed literally everything they owned into a wagon, and some sacrificed it all to get to their destination. A pioneering spirit sees the value of moving toward those new places and new people, and is willing to give sacrificially to make it happen.

Going to a new place of mission effectiveness here in Illinois will be costly too, especially if God inspires more churches and raises up more leaders, planters, and missionaries to go to new places and engage many new people. Fortunately, we as Illinois Baptists have a wonderful, reliable, tested vehicle in which to entrust our sacrifices. The Cooperative Program (some call it CP Missions) prioritizes missions in Illinois by investing 56.5% of its gifts here, while also sending 43.5% to be combined with others’ gifts and take the gospel throughout North America and the world.

Today the average IBSA church gives about 7% of its undesignated offerings to local and worldwide missions through the Cooperative Program. As with baptisms, that average is the result of some churches sacrificing far more, and some sacrificing far less. At one time, 10% was the accepted norm for Cooperative Program missions, and at one time IBSA churches averaged giving 11% rather than 7%. Simply stated, a return to that 10% standard could result in over $3 million more to missions next year.

Pioneering Spirit Challenge #3: Will your church commit to a new level of sacrificial missions giving through the Cooperative Program? Will you challenge your members to faithful tithing and life stewardship, so that generous giving transforms their own lives, as well as others’?

Develop new leaders
A pioneering spirit must be multi-generational. Very few destinations that require true, pioneering effort can be fully attained in one lifetime. Our parents’ generation brought us this far into our Baptist missionary journey in Illinois, and now we lead and will go a little farther before entrusting the journey to our children. That’s why a pioneering spirit must invest in the development of new leaders, even as it sacrifices and gives its all now.

It seems that churches used to have more systematic ways of developing new leaders. Sunday nights were invested in church leadership training programs. Wednesday nights were often invested in missions education programs that developed boys and girls, and young men and women, for tomorrow’s missionary and church leadership roles.

We should be grateful for churches that still develop tomorrow’s leaders in this way, while not necessarily wishing the same programs or methods on others. But today, more than ever, we must ask ourselves with a new seriousness, “How are we systematically and intentionally developing leaders for tomorrow’s churches?”

Pioneering Spirit Challenge #4: Will your church commit to the intentional developing of younger leaders who will be tomorrow’s pastors, and church planters, and missionaries? Will you join with other Baptist partners like IBSA who can help you develop these young leaders for tomorrow’s church?

Facing our mountains
Last summer I traveled to Loveland, Colorado, in part to scout out Long’s Peak, a 14,259-foot mountain that will hopefully, next year, be the thirty-first and most difficult “fourteener” I climb. As I headed west from the Interstate and flatlands of Loveland, I could not immediately see the pass up into the mountains. But soon I noticed that the road was following a stream, and then a mighty, rushing river. There was barely room for a road in some places, but the water had cut enough of a path through the rock that we could now follow it up to previously impossible heights. We eagerly forged ahead.

To leave the flat trends of our recent journey as Illinois Baptists may seem impossible at first. Our 200-year-old mission field is more lost now than ever. And developing new leaders while making new sacrifices to engage new people in new places with the gospel—well, that’s no easy path. But I believe the living water of God’s own Spirit has already made a way for us. If we are filled with his Pioneering Spirit and will follow him forward by faith, even into difficult places, I believe God has new heights planned for us here in Illinois.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. The challenges outlined here will be presented in the Annual Meeting.

Stronger Churches

stronger churches

If the Christian faith is to grow stronger in Illinois, it will require stronger churches, in particular stronger Southern Baptist churches in cities, towns, and rural areas across the state. IBSA focuses on leader development and coaching ministry by equipping pastors and lay leaders in more than 20,000 sessions annually. And at the church’s request, IBSA offers personal consultation from experienced pastors and church leaders in overcoming growth barriers. IBSA is one of just a few state conventions to provide such customized ministry for its member churches, offering insight on site.

At events such as the Illinois Leadership Summit, pastors can learn from practitioners who know the rigors of ministry. They can be refreshed and return home to lead invigorated, effective ministries.

Pray for Mark Emerson and the Church Resource Team, and 11 zone consultants including Joe Oliver and Steven Glover in metro Chicago.

Give to the Offering. If your church promotes and receives a Mission Illinois Offering, we encourage you to give that way. If not, you can also give here — www.IBSA.org/GiveToMIO.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

Watch, “Now More Than Ever”

Soul-Winning Churches

Pat Pajak praying

Pat Pajak can share Jesus with anyone anywhere, even the rehab unit where he recovered from heart surgery. He tells how he was able to share Bibles and the gospel with nurses who cared for him during his recovery. Pat is a terrific example. This beloved pastor from central Illinois has served in a several capacities with IBSA. Now Pat is leading evangelism training, and helping churches and pastors grow as witnesses. Pat will train more than 200 churches this year, and develop an evangelism network with over 100 pastors.

At least two-thirds of the people in Illinois do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The need for believers to boldly share their faith has never been greater. IBSA has made advancing the gospel the main reason for all we do.

Pray for Pat, Sylvan Knobloch, and for IBSA churches to grow in personal evangelism.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

Give to the Offering. If your church promotes and receives a Mission Illinois Offering, we encourage you to give that way. If not, you can also give here — www.IBSA.org/GiveToMIO.

Watch Pajak’s story, “Sharing Jesus – Everywhere.”

Why evangelism is needed now

ib2newseditor —  September 11, 2017

The ‘blue map’ tells our story

The blue mapThis map is becoming familiar around the Illinois Baptist State Association. We call it ‘the blue map.’ With just a few brush strokes, it clearly illustrates the need for evangelism in Illinois.

The map shows the percentage of people in each county who self-identify as Southern Baptist.

Our strength as a denomination is in the southern half of the state, where in most counties at least 5% of the population is SBC. In some places, the percentage is higher than that, but with so little of this map shaded dark blue, it’s easy to understand why Southern Baptists—and evangelicals overall—are in the minority in Illinois.

The farther north we travel, the less ‘Baptist’ the state is, even as the population explodes. The gray circles show our most populous places. And in stark contrast, the white and lightest blue-shaded counties show places where there are few or no SBC churches.

The need is great all across Illinois, but especially in the cities and Northwest Illinois.

“In many parts of Illinois, Baptists are outnumbered by Muslims, Mormons, eastern religions, and people with no faith at all,” Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association said. “In fact, at least 8-million of our 13-million neighbors in Illinois do not know Jesus Christ.”

That’s why at IBSA, we often say, “Evangelism is the point of the plow.” As a ministry-support and missions-sending organization, IBSA’s missionaries and staff are engaged in many activities that assist local Baptist churches in Illinois.

The partnership we share with almost 1,000 churches, mission congregations, and church plants is vital to strengthening Baptist work in Illinois. But whatever the ministry activity, the reason behind it is equipping IBSA churches, leaders, and members to share the gospel with people who do not yet know Jesus as their personal savior.

The missionaries whose photos appear in this prayer guide each have different specialties. Church planting, age-graded discipleship, and missions mobilization are just a few. But their work has the same chief purpose: advancing the gospel.

For example, when Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief teams are cutting trees felled by storms and digging out mud-packed houses after floods, somewhere nearby a trained DR chaplain is sharing Jesus with a suffering homeowner. And many times, they find Christ in their crisis.

Who trained the chaplains? Who organized the volunteers?

You did.

By giving through the Mission Illinois Offering, you enable state missionaries to do their work in Illinois. You provide supplies for VBS training and children’s camps. You send expertise to churches in need of stronger leadership. You recruit and equip church planters to start congregations where they are desperately need. And the list goes on and on.

Your gifts through the Mission Illinois Offering stay here in Illinois: teaching students, equipping leaders, planting churches, and, at all times, advancing the gospel.

Won’t you give through the Mission Illinois Offering? Your partnership in advancing the gospel in Illinois is needed now, more than ever.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.