We can all identify with the Casting Crowns song these days: “It’s time for us to more than just survive; we were made to thrive.” It’s especially true after the year we have all experienced. Yet, there are signs, despite the pandemic, that God’s intent is for his people to be well and do well.
The famed promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is still true. A promise made to Israel holds true for the church.
God’s plans are for good.
“Even during times of great challenge and stress, many believers, churches, and ministries are thriving,” said Nate Adams, IBSA Executive Director. “Our family gathering of Baptist churches will give us opportunities to share stories of perseverance and hope, and look forward together in faith.”
After more than a year limited by Covid-19 restrictions, an abbreviated business gathering last year and no Pastors Conference in 2020, the IBSA Annual Meeting returns with hopes for a grand turnout and celebration of God’s work in Illinois. Special events are planned for 14 affinity groups and ministry interests, plus Illinois’ first Crossover missions projects at Annual Meeting time.
There’s something for everyone at the 2021 IBSA Annual Meeting.
“I think all of us as Illinois Baptists are ready to be together again, in person, in worship, and in unity,” Adams said. Even in the face of renewed Covid concerns, Adams remains optimistic. “I hope this year’s Annual Meeting will be the largest and most encouraging in recent memory.”
The IBSA Pastors Conference and the Annual Meeting will share the theme “Thrive.” Both groups will take exhortation and encouragement from the first century church. The Pastors Conference will explore the seven churches of the Book of Revelation, while the Annual Meeting will draw from the early church’s experience recorded in Acts 16:5: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”
That’s a picture of God’s people thriving.
“Thrive is a central word in IBSA’s new statement of mission: ‘to deliver network value that inspires each church to thrive in health, growth, and mission,’” Adams said. “Churches of all sizes, styles, and locations can thrive, each in their own unique way. Our statewide network of churches exists to deliver value that helps each church to thrive.”
A special section of the exhibit hall will be devoted to this question: What is your church’s next step? IBSA’s approach focuses on the processes needed for a church to grow, rather than prescribing one-size-fits-all ministry programs, because in our varied Illinois contexts, one size doesn’t fit all. Or even most.
IBSA zone consultants and staff members from the Health, Growth, and Mission Teams will be available to meet with pastors and church leaders about next steps in each of these areas.
A unique feature of the 2021 meeting is bringing together people with similar interests. This happens informally at meals, receptions, and hallway conversations. But this year, the list of offerings is intentionally expanded.
“Our Baptist family in Illinois has many families of ministry passion, from disaster relief volunteers to women’s ministry leaders to bi-vocational pastors,” Adams said. “Gathering around those special passions and then coming together in worship with a unified passion for God’s Word and our Great Commission task will make this year’s Annual Meeting especially strong.”
The 14 affinity groups listed on page B-1 offer opportunities for every person who attends the Annual Meeting this year to find special points of connection. For groups holding special gatherings, registration is requested. Visit the website, IBSAAnnualMeeting.org to learn more and to sign up.
Missions meet and greet
The IBSA Missions Team will host times for people interested in international missions to meet with IMB missionaries from Spain and Nigeria. Learn what God is doing on their fields and how to increase the stateside church’s involvement. (See the list on page B-16.)
Rusty and Jennifer Ford from Illinois are serving with the International Mission Board (IMB) in Europe. Illinois Baptists were moved by the missionary experiences they shared during a previous furlough. The Fords will be special guests during the Wednesday afternoon session.
Rusty was featured in a missionary report from IMB that told an incident typical of his ministry. The missionary led a young kickboxer named Raoul to Christ in a journey that included Raoul’s recovery from drug addiction. Then Raoul’s twin, Jorge, was saved.
“The two brothers decided they could use their boxing as an outreach method, and Rusty helped them start classes at a church. Young men flocked to the classes and, so far, the two brothers have shared the gospel with more than 50 of them,” IMB reported. “Many of these young men have decided to follow Christ and stop using drugs.”
God continues to bless the Fords’ work in Europe, and they will share their stories here at home in November.
Other accounts of God’s work will include reports of baptisms in Illinois resulting from local churches’ partnership with Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief to distribute food and supplies during the pandemic. Church planters will share about God’s work in several Illinois communities. Belafae Johnson of Mascoutah was featured in the 2021 Mission Illinois video series “Vital Partners”, will be on hand to share his planting story.
At least 14 churches will be presented for affiliation with IBSA. The list is printed on page B-1.
In God’s presence
Lifeway President Ben Mandrell, a native of Tampico, will be the special speaker on Wednesday night. Mandrell is making the spiritual wellbeing of pastors a focus of his leadership at the SBC publishing house. He will address the issue in his visit to Illinois.
IBSA President Heath Tibbetts, pastor of First Baptist Church of Machesney Park will deliver the President’s Message. Tibbetts, elected IBSA Vice President in 2019, presided last year when President Sammy Simmons was quarantined unexpectedly, and he succeeded Simmons as President when Simmons accepted a post with the North American Mission Board in April.
The Annual Sermon will be delivered by Jeremy Byrd, pastor of Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church. He has served the Jacksonville congregation since 2015.
The three entities that comprise IBSA will present their reports. Executive Director Nate Adams will Join IBSA Board Chair Andy Dewitt. BCHFS Executive Director Denny Hydrick and BFI Executive Director Doug Morrow will join their respective board chairs for their presentations.
Worship is always a highlight of the yearly gathering of Illinois Baptists. David Higgs, associate pastor for worship at Dorrisville Baptist Church is again organizing the “Illinois All Stars” praise band, a collection of worship leaders and instrumentalists from churches across the state. This group has been well received in previous IBSA meetings.
Worship will bring us to the throne in the assurance that in God’s presence, as the Casting Crowns song says, we may know “joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable, love unstoppable.” In this season we need to know “anything is possible.”