Recently our IBSA staff set aside a day for spiritual retreat and focus. Since the beginning of the year, our weekly chapel services have been focusing on the Bible passages that undergird key words and phrases in our new mission statement: “Deliver network value that inspires each church to thrive in health, growth, and mission.”
Each word and each phrase in that statement carries deep meaning and has strong biblical foundation. But on this special retreat day, we focused on the phrase that is intentionally placed right at the center of our mission: “each church.”
In the first session of our retreat, I shared the special impact that “each church” where I have been a member has had on my life. From my earliest memories, through childhood, adolescence and youth group, and on to the churches that taught me to lead and the churches I planted or pastored, I described the 10 churches that have shaped my life. It’s an exercise I would sincerely recommend to every Christian, whether that list contains one church or dozens.
The second session of our retreat was then led by several staff members who had volunteered to share 5-10 minutes about only one or two churches that had been especially transformational in their lives. Instead of spanning one specific lifetime, these testimonies spanned a wide geography of places and people and churches, both within Illinois and beyond. By the time the last volunteer finished speaking, we had heard grateful, often emotional, testimonies about probably 25 unique churches.
Several of the churches we heard about had changed their names over the years, and some had changed locations. A couple of them had even ceased ministry over the decades. But those changes didn’t diminish our love for them, or the transformational impact they have had on our lives.
The common thread in all our testimonies was a deep appreciation for the people, often the leaders or teachers, who personified that church during that season of our lives. Of course that reminded us of a very important truth, that a church is not a location or a building, but the people of God who are his body in that place and at that time.
The final session of our retreat turned our attention to the churches that we serve today, throughout Illinois. Just as each of the churches we testimonialized had deeply impacted and transformed our lives and matured and equipped us as disciples of Jesus, so each church we serve throughout Illinois has that same power and potential in the lives of its people. That’s why we do what we do.
The New Testament mentions at least 34 individual congregations, and at least six groups or regions of churches, such as “the churches in Galatia.” Yet when Paul, or Peter, or John wrote to those churches in their international association, it was clear that they knew and cared about each context, each unique set of issues and problems, each person, each church. And whether they were delivering a relief offering or doctrinal clarity or leadership training, those traveling network leaders sought to deliver value, from the entire network to each church in it.
That’s why I wanted to share briefly about our recent staff retreat here. I want each church in Illinois to know that it is at the very center of our newly stated mission. And I want each church to know that we as a staff pursue that mission out of deep gratitude for each church that the Lord has used, and continues to use, to shape our lives.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.