When I think of international missions, I tend to think of missionaries. When I think of North American missions, I think mostly of church planting. But when I think of state missions here in Illinois, my first thought goes to churches.
Whether in the New Testament or in our 21st century world today, those three thoughts—missionaries, church planting, and then churches as missionaries—are a snapshot of how the gospel spreads, and how the Great Commission is fulfilled. First there is darkness and lostness, where people have not yet heard the good news about Jesus and the salvation he offers, either in their language or in a way they can understand.
Then bold, dedicated, pioneering missionaries carry the message to those places. In fact, over two thousand years after the first Christian missionaries carried the gospel to their “ends of the earth,” international missionaries are still delivering that message to the more than 11,000 “unreached, unengaged people groups” of our world today.
Once the gospel is delivered and received by some, those new disciples gather into churches for the purposes of worship, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry. New churches are the primary work of North American missions—establishing new congregations where the gospel is taking root.
It’s important to remember, however, that the purposes of the church are not just worship, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry. Churches are also called to the purposes of evangelism in their own communities, and missions from their own community to the ends of the earth. In other words, churches should be missionaries. The pioneering work of the individual missionary and the core group of church planters should be continued by every New Testament church, including the “sending” of new missionaries and church planters.
This is where the work of state missions is so important, and why churches are invited to give generously to the Mission Illinois Offering as well as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. While the International Mission Board works primarily through individual missionaries, and the North American Mission Board works primarily through church planters, your Illinois Baptist State Association works primarily through churches as missionaries.
Our small IBSA staff couldn’t begin to deliver the gospel effectively to the more than 13 million people of Illinois. In fact it’s a huge, missionary task even for our less than one thousand churches, especially when over 400 of those churches reported no baptisms last year.
That’s why missions in Illinois looks more like church strengthening and revitalization, more like leadership development and training, than sending individual missionaries. When your state missions staff at IBSA trains churches in evangelism or disciple-making strategies, or equips leaders for Vacation Bible School or safe children’s ministry, or facilitates state missions projects or Disaster Relief ministries, or networks pastors or other church leaders for the sake of better leadership practices—we are seeking to send more effective churches into the Illinois mission field.
Because of our overlap with North American missions, IBSA is also actively engaged in church planting, anticipating 20 new churches to be planted in 2019. Of course, that’s a modest beginning toward planting the 200 churches needed in Illinois today.
So as you prepare to give to the Mission Illinois Offering this month, remember that IBSA staff are not the primary missionaries of Illinois. Our churches are. But IBSA’s handful of trainers, event planners, consultants, and church planting catalysts work hard at assisting every willing, missionary church. Your generous gifts through the Mission Illinois Offering support us, and we are grateful. And we are eager to help your church, and mine, become even more missionary.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.