I suppose the most self-indulgent car I’ve ever owned was one we purchased just after Beth and I were married. It was a sporty little Honda Prelude, with barely any back seat and just enough trunk space for the two of us.
Then, as our family grew, we found we needed cars with bigger back seats and more trunk space. The arrival of our third son pushed us into a mini-van, and longer trips even required a cartop carrier for all the stuff that tended to go with us. Last spring, with two daughters-in-law now in our family troupe, our family vacation required the rental of something called a “people mover,” with nine seats plus cargo space.
Yes, it costs more and more and takes extra effort for a growing family to travel together. But it’s worth it. Sure, things like your destination and everyone’s comfort are important. But just as important are the relationships that grow, and the experiences you share, as you travel together.
That’s also how I feel about our journey and mission together as churches, here in Illinois. Sure, where we are going together is important: We want to reach people with the gospel, and to develop disciples and leaders who can help our churches grow, and start new churches, and go to the mission fields of the world.
But the relationship between and among churches and leaders is important too, and somewhat unique to state and local missions. Here we are close enough, not just to do missions together, but to grow together, and sometimes hurt together, as family.
State missions isn’t only about evangelism and church planting and training leaders, though we certainly invest a lot in those priorities. It’s also helping one another through pastoral transitions, or church conflict, or legal issues. It’s doing camps together. It’s planning mission trips or experiences for multiple leaders, or kids, or students, or churches, when one church can’t do that alone.
It’s answering the phone when a church has a need, and sometimes jumping in the car to bring some help or encouragement or resources. It’s celebrating big church anniversaries together, or the long tenure of a devoted pastor. Sometimes it’s crying together at a funeral.
When churches throughout a state decide not to travel alone, but to band together, and work together, and put a state staff and ministries in place, they are doing more than giving money to send missionaries, as important as that is. They are deciding to journey together in a shared mission field, and to do life together, for better or worse, in a way that isn’t really practical in North American missions or international missions.
I would never take anything away from the challenges that our sister, southern state conventions face. But I will say that when a few hundred Southern Baptist churches that average 75 in attendance take on a northern state like Illinois, with mammoth cities like Chicago and St. Louis, and with a population that is 175 times the total worship attendance of our churches, our journey together is a little more uphill than most.
But this is our mission field. This is where we journey together. It’s not always easy or comfortable. But it’s worth it.
Next month, churches across our state will receive a special offering, the Mission Illinois Offering. It helps provide what we need for the journey together. Please consider a generous gift, through your church or through the IBSA.org website, if your church isn’t receiving the offering. Every year we travel together brings new challenges. But, for the sake of the lost here, and the glory of our God, our journey together is worth it.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.