Archives For youth

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Barna’s most recent list of the country’s most unchurched cities is dotted with Illinois metro areas, but only two have populations that rank above the national unchurched percentage: 38%. (Barna defines “unchurched” as those who haven’t attended a church service in the last six months, except for a holiday or special occasion.)

The_BriefingThe metro area composed of Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois ranked 27th on Barna’s list of most unchurched cities, with an unchurched population of 42%. Chicago is a few places down the list, at No. 32 with 39% of the population unchurched.

Other familiar cities: St. Louis is 45th, Champaign/Springfield/Decatur is 53rd, and Harrisburg and Mt. Vernon (along with Paducah, Ky., and Cap Girardeau, Mo.) are 80th.

Does young = pacifist? Maybe not necessarily, according to a Harvard poll of young Americans that found nearly 60% approve of sending ground troops to fight ISIS.

Imprisoned pastor urges prayer | Saeed Abedini’s 35th birthday coincides May 7 with the National Day of Prayer in the U.S., which is the focus of a letter he wrote from prison in Iran. “As Ezra cried out to God in repentance and the Israelites joined him in weeping bitterly and turning from their sin, I would like to ask you to join me in repenting and praying for revival,” Abedini wrote. This story from The Christian Post also reports on the political chaos swirling around the pastor’s captivity and the fight for his release.

New nominees for persecuted countries list | The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended the State Department add eight countries to a list of the “world’s worst violators of religious liberty,” Baptist Press reports. The Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam all were nominated for the list of CPC’s (countries of particular concern), along with nine nations already on the list.

10 questions from Court’s marriage arguments | Transcripts of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments on same-sex marriage are available online, as is this guide–provided by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission–to the 10 most important questions asked by the justices. For example, would it be unwise for the Court to redefine an institution as ancient as marriage? And would redefining marriage impose on institutions’ religious liberty, like the loss of tax-exempt status?

Editor’s note: This is the final story in a series of three testimonies about Super Summer, an annual discipleship week for students sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association. Click here to read how Hannah Batista met Christ at Super Summer, and here for why youth minister Tim Drury takes his students to Greenville for the week every year.

Zaxxson_NationHEARTLAND | Zaxxson Nation spent Super Summer 2014 teaching high school seniors the most practical parts of discipleship— finding a mentor, building intentional friendships, and investing in a local church. As assistant dean for the green school, which is focused on discipleship, Nation helped transfer to his students some of the same principles he learned as a Super Summer student.

Assistant dean is just one hat Nation has worn since his first week in Greenville 12 years ago. As a 16-year-old student leader from Rochester First Baptist, he realized at Super Summer that his Christianity was based more on head knowledge than faith that had taken root in his heart.

“God really changed everything in my life” that week, Nation said. “And at that point I was ready to serve, to do whatever it took to just serve Him.”

Part of what makes Super Summer different from some other camps is the laser-like focus on knowing Jesus more, Nation said. At his first Super Summer, “When we had free time, we were talking about Jesus. And when we went to bed at night, we were joking around, but we were also sharing our testimonies.”

Years later, he said, “I think it’s the same now as it was 12 years ago when I was a student. It’s still people coming together for the same reason; it’s still students that are serious about their faith.”

Nation acknowledged that Super Summer creates an environment that’s impossible to recreate once students get home and the distractions of life flood back in. Being cut off from regular life for a week is both a blessing and a curse, he said. “God uses it, though; He used it for my life,” he said.

“The other big thing about Super Summer is it’s pretty much where I got my standard for being a godly man,” Nation remembered. He met pastors and leaders who had memorized large chunks of the Bible and shared their faith regularly.

“Super Summer puts you under those guys’ teaching for an entire week, and you leave inspired. And I left personally saying, ‘Wow, I want to be like that.’

“Because as a student I saw that and was challenged by those high standards, I want to go back and work under those guys, and be peers to those guys and continue to learn from them. That’s a huge motivator for me, to think that one day a student could look at me and my life and say that I’m inspiring them in the same way that those guys inspired me.”

Students meet in their "family group" at Super Summer, IBSA's discipleship week for students in Greenville, Ill.

Students meet in a “family group” at Super Summer, IBSA’s discipleship week for students in Greenville, Ill.

HEARTLAND | When you ask him if students in his youth group are different after they experience Super Summer, Tim Drury pops open his laptop and pulls up a video of Hannah Batista sharing her testimony. Hannah came to Christ last summer during the annual discipleship week at Greenville College.

Most students are already Christians when they get to Super Summer, which is sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association. But the week is still life-changing. They grow, and they want to grow more, said Drury, youth minister at FBC Bethalto.

“My job as a student pastor is to take what they’ve learned, and for the other 51 weeks of the year, help them put it into practice.”

It’s something he’s been learning how to do since the early 2000s, when he first came to Super Summer as a youth pastor. He now serves as an assistant dean in the gray school, a group for students preparing to go to college in the fall. The dean of the gray school, Lakeland Baptist Pastor Phil Nelson, has been at every Super Summer since the beginning, more than 20 years ago.

The students aren’t the only ones being mentored, Drury said. He’s being discipled too, by pastors like Nelson who take a week away from their churches to come to Greenville.

Caleb Ellis was a student in Drury’s gray school this year. The 18-year-old, who’s also from Bethalto, likened his first Super Summer to drinking from a fire hose. But he learned “tools for practical, modern faith,” and was already talking in Greenville about how he could go home and start Gospel conversations with a friend from another culture.

When he came to Bethalto, Drury said, “I needed something that did heavy discipleship and challenged our kids to look more like Jesus.” Super Summer helps fill in the gaps caused by the time limitations he faces as a youth minister. He may only see most students once a week, for example, and it’s difficult to do intensive classes for specific ages or genders. But in Greenville, his students are “under the pressure of the Gospel” – it’s a refining process for them, an opportunity to evaluate their relationship with Christ.

And for him. The students are learning things here that he’s still learning, Drury said.

For more on Super Summer, read the July 28 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online later this week at


“…I learned many, many years ago that God is far too big for me to understand Him, but at the same time that His love for mankind is just as far beyond my comprehension,” Dr. Hannah Gay told Baptist Press. “So I trust Him even when I don’t understand.”

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The news that a child believed to be functionally cured of HIV once again has the virus growing inside her “felt like a punch to the gut,” the specialist who treated the child told CNN.

But Hannah Gay also said God is evident in the details of the case.

“For confidentiality reasons I cannot share any of those details publicly but there are many and they have helped to not just reaffirm my faith in God,” Gay told Baptist Press, “but to actually strengthen it.”

The associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Mississippi Medical Center was credited in March 2013 with achieving a “functional” cure of the child born with HIV, meaning the virus couldn’t be detected by standard clinical tests. But tests this month revealed the more than two-year remission is over.

Gay, who has credited God with the functional cure, said she’s learned to trust Him even when she doesn’t understand current circumstances. Read the full story at

Moore: Compassion needed at border
The church’s response to the border crisis “cannot be quick and easy,” wrote Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “But, for the people of God, our consciences must be informed by a Kingdom more ancient and more permanent than the United States.” Read his column at

LifeWay poll: 56% of Americans want more movies with Christian values
In a year where faith-based movies have seen success at the box office, LifeWay Research found a majority of Americans say they want more such films, although adults under 30 were the age group least likely to agree. In other movie news, 20th Century Fox has released the trailer for October’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

Pew defines ‘closely held’ corporations
Wondering what the Supreme Court meant by “closely held” businesses in their recent decision on Hobby Lobby? Pew Research released this explanation of the label.

Illinois students serving in Chicago, Oklahoma
The All-State Youth Choir is on tour this week, and heading to Oklahoma after a concert at Six Flags in St. Louis today. Follow them at


Students and their leaders at ChicaGO Week pray for specific neighborhoods that are in need of a new church.

How do you introduce junior high and high school students to the intricacies of church planting in one of the country’s largest cities?

Take them there, and let them try it out.

More than 50 teens will spend this week working alongside five church planters in Chicagoland as part of the first-ever ChicaGO Week, a project sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association. The week kicked off July 13 at Judson University in Elgin, where youth groups from Harrisburg, Chicago, and several places in between will gather for worship after days at their project sites.

prayer_2During the opening worship service, the students heard from someone with lots of experience juggling the responsibilities of church planting.

And lots of experience with actual juggling too.

Ken Schultz is a professional entertainer with the stage name “The Flying Fool.” He’s also co-pastor of Crosswinds Church in Plainfield, a church he started several years ago with nuclear engineer John Stillman.

“God uses my juggling and John as a nuclear engineer to help grow a church,” Schultz told the students. Crosswinds has an average weekly attendance of 120 people, and 60% of those came to Christ through the church’s ministry.

“John makes killer spreadsheets,” Schultz said of his co-pastor. “I do this,” he said, before wowing the crowd by juggling three long knives.


Pastor Ken Schultz used his juggling and unicycle-riding skills in a message on boldness.

“What are you good at?” Schultz asked the students. “Can God use that to build his church?

“He can. You just need to give it to him.”

This week, they’ll do just that at Backyard Bible Clubs, through prayer walking and community clean-up projects, and by offering their time to church planters working hard to get to know their neighbors. It’s a lot to juggle, but God empowers His people to do His work.

“Let this generation be bold, let them be bold as lions for your glory and your good,” Schultz prayed at the end of his message. “If You can use a silly guy who juggles, You can use anybody.”