Two days after a mass shooting at a Texas church, Randy Johnson stood in his church’s pulpit and pleaded with leaders gathered for the IBSA Pastors’ Conference to preach every message like it could be their last opportunity to deliver the gospel. Or the last opportunity for their hearers to respond.
“They don’t know when it’s going to be….You’re going to have people who don’t want to hear what you’re going to say,” said the pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur. “Consider their last moment. What are you leaving them with? What are you turning their hearts toward?”
The news of the shooting at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas, was fresh in the minds of many speakers at the Nov. 7-9 IBSA Annual Meeting and Pastors’ Conference. During the business meeting’s opening session, IBSA President Kevin Carrothers led messengers in prayer for the congregation who lost 26 people on Nov. 5.
Ed Stetzer opened the first of his two Pastors’ Conference messages by noting the extra security personnel present at the meeting. Live and minister in light of eternity, he told pastors, and be honest about the contrast between where we are now, and where we will be one day.
Every believer is groaning for heaven, for an eternal, better place, said Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College. Preaching from 2 Corinthians 2, Stetzer said pastors are called to groan for heaven too, along with their people; otherwise, “your ministry won’t make sense.”
He told his listeners they need to talk to their churches about events like the Texas shooting, even when they don’t have answers.
“Teach and lead your people to follow Jesus faithfully, because their best life comes later.”
During the Wednesday evening session of the Annual Meeting, Tom Hufty spoke honestly and simply about his church’s journey since a gunman killed Pastor Fred Winters in the pulpit of FBC Maryville in March 2009.
Hufty told meeting attenders he remembers exactly where he was and what he thought when he heard the news about Winters: What must it be like to have been in that building, and how difficult it would be to lead the church through the aftermath.
“Even in that shape,” Hufty said, speaking of churches that have endured tragedy, “the church is still the heartthrob of the bridegroom,” of Christ. Ministry isn’t rocket science, Hufty said. “It’s loving God. It’s loving people. It’s making disciples.”
Reject the status quo
The urgent need to get the gospel to more people was a driving theme of both the Pastors’ Conference and the Annual Meeting, which challenged churches to make four “Pioneering Spirit” commitments in the areas of church planting, evangelism, giving, and leadership development. (See pages 8-9.)
Moving from our current “flatland” to new heights in those areas will require a steep uphill climb, IBSA leaders said, but it’s the only option.
“We can’t be satisfied with the status quo, because the status quo is decline,” said Carrothers during his president’s message.
Preaching from the book of Numbers, Carrothers said no one remembers the names of the naysaying Israelites who didn’t want to go into the Promised Land. Instead, the real legacy of pioneering spirit was left by Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who trusted God to provide.
“They recognized the will of God was more important to obey than the whims and the desires of men, even if the majority won,” Carrothers said.
In the meeting’s final session Thursday morning, Pastor Sammy Simmons offered an annual sermon full of encouragement for those weary from a difficult season of life and ministry. Rely on the Lord, said the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton. And keep taking bold steps for the sake of the gospel.
“The conditions are too rough, the lostness is too great for us to continue to do business as normal,” Simmons preached. “The cause of the gospel causes us to make bold sacrifices for King Jesus.
“I’m all in for this pioneering spirit. Oh, how much our church needs it. Oh, how much I need it. Oh, how much our state needs it.”
During his report, IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams gave messengers a progress report on
IBSA’s four key goals:
• Develop leaders: So far in 2017 more than 500 pastors and leaders have participated in IBSA-sponsored leadership development events, Adams said. About half that number are engaged in more in-depth leadership cohorts.
• Inspire cooperation: Adams reported that giving through the Cooperative Program and the Mission Illinois Offering is up slightly from last year, and through October, IBSA staff has had direct connection or consultation with 70% of all IBSA churches.
• Stimulating church health and growth: So far in 2017, IBSA staff has trained over 5,800 participants from 527 churches. Children’s camp
offerings have grown from three weeks to seven, Adams said, and IBSA has made major capital investments in both IBSA camps. The 75th anniversary of Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp was celebrated with a special video presentation during the Thursday morning session.
• Catalyzing evangelistic church planting and missions: It’s been a busy year for Disaster Relief, Adams said, with volunteers responding to in-state disasters and hurricanes elsewhere in the country. IBSA anticipates long-term involvement in the Houston area hard hit by Hurricane Harvey.
Fourteen new churches were planted in the state in 2017, Adams reported, and IBSA welcomed 17 new churches for affiliation during the Annual Meeting. Pat Pajak, associate executive director for evangelism, is planning for “One GRAND Sunday” in 2018, asking churches to plan a baptism service for the Sunday after Easter (April 8), to share the gospel passionately, and to pray that IBSA churches might see 1,000 baptisms that day.
Adams also pointed to other measurements, including membership, Sunday school attendance, baptisms, missions volunteerism, and missions giving, that have remained relatively flat over the past several years. He ended his report by encouraging churches to embrace one or more of the four “Pioneering Spirit” commitments designed to challenge IBSA to courageously depart from the status quo.
In other business:
– Messengers approved the 2018 IBSA budget of $8.7 million, with projected Cooperative Program giving of $6.3 million. IBSA forwards 43.5% of Cooperative Program gifts on to national SBC causes, the eleventh-highest among 42 state conventions.
– Messengers approved a motion brought by the IBSA Board of Directors that all property currently held by IBSA for Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services be conveyed by deed to BCHFS in its entirety. This includes 17 tracts of property (744.9 acres) that were acquired for use and are used by BCHFS, but are currently titled to IBSA.
– IBSA’s ministry partners gave video reports throughout the business meeting, including Illinois Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) and President Jill McNicol. God has advanced the work of WMU and given them new opportunities to reach new people, McNicol said, noting three places—Bangladesh, the Bronx, and Cairo, Ill.—where Illinois women have served on mission in the past year.
“To the women of WMU, missions is not just a thing. It’s people. It’s lost people needing a savior. And it’s teaching Christians how to live on mission for God, to reach those lost people.”
– IBSA’s four officers for 2018 were elected by acclamation: Adron Robinson, president, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills; Adam Cruse, vice president, pastor of Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman; Robin Mayberry, recording secretary, member of Bluford Baptist Church; and Sharon Carty, assistant recording secretary, member of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville.
– The next IBSA Annual Meeting is Nov. 7-8, 2018, at First Baptist Church, Maryville. Tom Hufty, pastor of FBC Maryville, will bring the annual sermon, and Michael Nave, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Marion, will serve as the alternate speaker.