Not long ago, I was invited by the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau to represent IBSA at a local event, recognizing organizations that have helped attract business to the Springfield area. IBSA was among that group because, in both 2015 and 2018, we hosted the Midwest Leadership Summit at the Springfield Crowne Plaza, drawing more than a thousand pastors and leaders from thirteen Midwest states to nearby hotels and restaurants.
The recognition event was held at the Abraham Lincoln Museum, and much to our delight, one of the presenters was Abraham Lincoln himself. As each of us were called to the platform, a Lincoln statuette was handed to us by a statuesque, flesh-and-blood Lincoln!
Of course, all of us know that our now beloved sixteenth President has been gone for more than 150 years. Our very convincing “Lincoln interpreter” was an actor named Fritz Klein, who looks remarkably like the historic Lincoln, and whose full-time profession is now portraying him in settings all over the United States.
Even so, as I was called to the platform, I found myself feeling a bit in awe of the towering figure who smiled and handed me my little statue. At his insistence, we each paused and posed for a quick photo. And for a brief moment, the warm smile and rehearsed mannerisms of Mr. Klein made me feel as if it were Mr. Lincoln who was pleased with me, and with IBSA.
Shortly after that event, I invited Mr. Klein to come and join us at our IBSA Annual Meeting this November. For one thing, it’s hard to imagine celebrating the Land of Lincoln bicentennial without some nod to Mr. Lincoln. But more importantly, I hope the image and memory of Abraham Lincoln will remind us that he was one of our state’s earliest pioneers, and that we need that pioneering spirit in our churches today.
Pioneers are willing to go new places, engage new people, make new sacrifices, and develop new leaders. Lincoln and his family personified these pioneering qualities, but so did dozens, and then hundreds, and eventually thousands of Baptists, who entered our fledgling state with both the Gospel and the desire to establish new churches.
In the early 1800’s, evangelism, church planting, missions giving, and leadership development were not easy. And they’re not easy in the early 2000’s. Even today, these kinds of missionary endeavors aren’t usually attempted or accomplished by complacent settlers, but by courageous pioneers.
By the time the IBSA Annual Meeting convenes in Maryville November 7-8, we hope to celebrate 200 years of statehood by also celebrating at least 200 Baptist churches who are embracing one or more of these “pioneering spirit” challenges. (Your church can register for these at www.pioneeringspirit.org.) A little more than 180 churches have embraced one or more of these challenges already, and we are hopeful that more than 200 will do so by the end of the IBSA Annual Meeting.
I don’t expect to have the kind of impact on Illinois or history that Mr. Lincoln did. But I do want to be the kind of pioneer that continues to bring both the Gospel and new Baptist churches to the places in Illinois that don’t have them yet. Welcoming new believers into heaven is so much more important than welcoming new business into Springfield. And of course the celebration event will be hosted by Someone so much more statuesque than Mr. Lincoln.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.