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Cultivate spiritual health

ib2newseditor —  February 9, 2017

tibbettsTimes of ministry burnout are coming, Heath Tibbetts told leaders gathered in Springfield for the Illinois Leadership Summit. So are areas of weakness. But there is a way to prepare for those inevitable difficulties, said the pastor of First Baptist Church in Machesney Park.

“Spiritual build-up prepares us for burnout and blind spots that we know are on the horizon,” Tibbetts said during his breakout session on the spiritual health of a leader.

One warning sign that spiritual build-up may be lacking, Tibbetts said, is reacting poorly to challenges. There was a time, he said, when his church didn’t plan for occasional obstacles, like losing a Sunday school teacher or facing a bill they couldn’t afford to pay. Leaders can fail to prepare in the same way, if they allow their current plans and level of knowledge to be enough.

“Visionless ministry punches the clock.”

So, how can a leader make sure his or her spiritual health is strong? Tibbetts suggested several ideas, including coaching from other leaders. He recently starting a mentoring relationship with a pastor in another part of the country, which started when Tibbetts read a magazine article about how the other church was utilizing facility space and e-mailed the pastor a question.

There’s also a need for trusted friends who can ask questions like, “How’s your relationship with your wife?” Tibbetts added.

Building oneself up spiritually also comes from time with God himself, he reminded his audience. “Personal devotion is one of the easiest things to let slip in your life.” As a pastor, if sermon preparation is the only study he does, Tibbetts said, and if he isn’t spending devotion time in other parts of Scripture, not only will the sermon be lacking, but he’ll also be missing a valuable build-up opportunity.

When ministry burnout does come, Tibbetts said, there are ways to confront it. Unplug, and “say no a lot.” Leaders need to remember their vision for ministry, even apart from what they are currently doing. “Visionless ministry punches the clock,” Tibbetts said, asking leaders to identify, What defines you separately from your ministry?

And keep building up. Tibbetts said a man in his church recently waited two months to call him for a counseling appointment, because he knew his pastor would ask about his spiritual life, and he wanted to make sure he was reading his Bible. If you’re confronting burnout, Tibbetts said, schedule more times of prayer.


Mark_Warnock_blog_calloutCOMMENTARY | Mark Warnock

I resigned in December from my church, First Baptist Columbia, to return to my home state of Florida. God has burdened me with the vast lostness of South Florida, and impressed upon me a duty to be closer to my aging parents. I’m moving down to join a church planting movement in South Florida, and to shine my little Gospel light in that darkness.

This move brings to a close 17 years of ministry in Illinois – six-and-a-half years in Chicagoland, and eleven years in the Metro East. I leave behind a host of people at my church and throughout the state that I love and respect. As I leave Illinois, I see both a lingering challenge and a great hope.

The primary challenge I see is the same one the church faces everywhere: selfishness. On a personal level, a church level, and a denominational level, we must fight constantly the Satanic gravity of our own selfishness that wants to make our lives all about us, our churches all about us, and our denomination all about us.  Jesus our Savior came not to be served, but to serve, and He calls us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow Him.

God formed a church to be a light to the world, for His glory. He has graciously allowed us to cooperate as a denomination to pool our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission, for His glory. So to the leaders in Illinois: Do not stop calling us outward, to the lost. Remember Luke 15, and the priority of God our Father: “…there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”

This fight to keep our eyes outward is not in vain, because there are signs of hope everywhere. Here are three I see:

Planting churches. I learned during my time at Columbia that one key to a healthy church is a steady stream of new converts. Like families, which continue to exist only if new babies are regularly born into them, churches begin to die without new spiritual life, and denominations begin to die without new churches.

I’m encouraged that God is calling men and women to devote their lives to starting new churches, and that IBSA is giving great priority to new church starts all across the state. Even more, I’m encouraged that increasingly, established IBSA churches are beginning to discover the joy and adventure of partnering with, supporting and working alongside church plants for the advancement of the Gospel.

Thinking students. I began teaching high school students at IBSA’s Super Summer in the late 90s. Many of the students I had in the early years are now pastoring or leading in churches across our state. I have been consistently impressed with the quality of the students in Illinois. They are passionate about the Gospel, hungry to be taught, and eager to love God with their minds. If our churches fail to equip our students with a clear understanding of the Gospel and the intellectual tools to be apologists in a hostile culture, we are in deep, deep trouble. The good news is that when presented with the challenge, our students – our future leaders – consistently rise to it.

A saving God. The real reason I have hope for the Gospel in Illinois and in South Florida? God keeps saving people. In my Monday night men’s group in Columbia, God kept saving some of the most unlikely men. In my first Sunday at my new church in West Palm Beach, I met a woman who came to church without an invitation, just stirred by the Spirit, and not knowing why she was there. She came to faith that week.

Consider Jesus’ answer to the scribes in Mark 2:17 who asked why He was eating with unlikely dinner guests – sinners and tax collectors. “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

No one is as passionate as our God to save sinners like us.

So to my colleagues in the Gospel across Illinois: Thank you for 17 years of friendship and love. Don’t lose heart. Let your light shine in the darkness. Keep speaking of Jesus. Keep fighting the good fight. Keep holding out the Gospel, because our God is willing and mighty to save.

Mark Warnock formerly served as associate pastor of First Baptist, Columbia.


When hundreds of churches convene next month for the IBSA Annual Meeting in Decatur, we will assemble under the theme “Mission Illinois.” For me, however, it’s more than a meeting theme. In the days ahead, I hope the mantra of Mission Illinois will begin to represent a fresh new vision of why we as churches choose to cooperate, and how we measure our effectiveness as a state association.

For several years now, we as the churches and leaders of IBSA have focused our energies on four key priorities: strengthening churches, starting churches, sending Christians into their Acts 1:8 mission fields, and stimulating stewardship among churches so we can do our part with other Southern Baptists to fund the larger missions efforts of the SBC.

Our goals within those key priorities have been aggressive, and we haven’t always attained them. But for the most part we are training more leaders with fewer staff, starting a steady number of new churches with lower national funding, and directly assisting more churches in their evangelism and missions efforts in spite of higher travel costs and a challenging economy.

But we as an association of churches still long to see increases in indicators such as baptisms, worship and Bible study participation, and the net number of IBSA churches – all of which have remained relatively flat over the past few years. We don’t care about numbers for numbers’ sake, but because they are indicators of missional advance, church health, and Kingdom expansion. We want to see lostness decrease and the accessibility of Bible-believing churches increase.

So I’ve been asking myself, and would invite you to ask with me, what might need to change? How might we adjust our efforts in this mission we call Illinois?

I don’t claim to have it figured out yet, or that I can do it alone. More often than not, I feel like our blind dog Willy that I described in the last issue. In fact, our mission here in Illinois is partly what I had in mind when I wrote, “There are times when it seems that I just can’t see things, or can’t see where things are going, with the clarity or certainty I would like. Things in my family, my work, my church, things in Baptist life, things in our nation, things on the world scene – all seem to be less predictable, less comfortable than in the past.”

That certainly is an environment where faith and dependence on God for vision are desperately needed, as Willy’s situation illustrates. And so I have not been hasty to propose a new mission statement or declare a new direction. I’m praying and thinking, listening and observing, drafting and revising, waiting and praying. And I invite you to join me, and to e-mail, write or call with your thoughts or ideas.

In the next couple of issues, I’m going to share a little more of what I think “Mission Illinois” might mean as a vision for our future as IBSA churches. On one hand, it’s hard for me to imagine that strengthening churches and starting churches and sending Christians on mission, and stimulating faithful stewardship among churches will not still be primary priorities. On the other hand, I can’t help but believe that God wants to do more through our cooperation than we are currently experiencing.

So please join me in prayer and creative thinking as we approach this year’s IBSA Annual Meeting. For us as Illinois Baptists, Mission Illinois must be more than an annual meeting theme. It must become a rallying cry for reinvigorated, purposeful cooperation that actually impacts the lostness of our Illinois mission field.