As a pastor who has experienced first-hand the uncertainty of 2020, Jacob Gray (pictured above) preached to encourage his fellow IBSA leaders.
“This was supposed to be the most special year in our church’s history,” said Gray, pastor of Ten Mile Baptist Church in McLeansboro. The congregation celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2020, and was poised to average 500 in Sunday morning worship attendance. They had voted to work with an architect on a building plan, and had scheduled outreaches for every month, Gray said.
This was to be “the year,” the pastor said. “And it has not been.”
The uncertainty of 2020 set the stage for Gray’s message in Decatur. Preaching the annual sermon at the IBSA Annual Meeting, Gray talked about the life of the prophet Samuel, which was also marked by uncertainty and frustration. When faced with the people of Israel rejecting his leadership, Samuel responded with a commitment to pray for them, and a strongly worded lesson on the things of God.
“What is my response as the man of God standing in the place of leading the people of God?” Gray asked. “To pray and to teach.” He urged pastors to preach the word in its entirety.
“That means when the Bible speaks about the sin of racism, you better preach it no matter how white your church is. And you better understand something: When you’re watching thieves, and lawlessness, and violence in the cities, no matter what your makeup of your church is, you better preach that it’s sin.
“Doesn’t matter if your church is a bunch of Democrats or Republicans, you better preach that abortion is murder. You better preach that the sanctity of human life matters to God, but also caring for children after they’re born matters as well. You better preach that marriage is still defined in the Scriptures as one man and one woman for life. But you ought to preach that unbiblical divorce is still wrong.
“You see our churches are not dying from a lack of preaching,” Gray said, “it is selective preaching.”
Pastors can’t make churchgoers come back to church, or vote the way they want, or even give, Gray said. “But what you can do is pray and proclaim. Pray and proclaim.”
‘An incredible moment’
At some level, everyone wants to get back to normal, said Heath Tibbetts. To see church attendance back up to pre-pandemic levels. To eat inside a restaurant. But going back to the way church was before the pandemic? “I don’t think I want it,” said the pastor of First Baptist Church in Machesney Park.
In a message focused on leaders grappling with current challenges, Tibbetts (right) preached from 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, reminding IBSA leaders of Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthian church to persevere—together. Tibbetts reminded leaders of the support IBSA offers, urging them to call on the state association. He also encouraged them to lead from the current moment, instead of one they’d prefer.
“Do not use earthly metrics to measure how your church is doing right now,” Tibbetts said. “The average church right now is at 37% of their January 2020 attendance.” While metrics may appear like the church is wasting away, the lessons of the last few months are a reason to be thankful, he said.
“I’m not thankful for it, but I can be thankful in it,” Tibbetts said. He urged church leaders to plan now for their next opportunity to reach people with the gospel. “Our IBSA churches can and will persevere for the future, if we pivot now. Take this moment. This is an incredible moment.”
Tibbetts delivered the President’s message in Decatur on behalf of Sammy Simmons, who quarantined out of an abundance of caution after possible exposure to COVID-19. Simmons, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton, was elected to a second term as IBSA President. He opened the meeting with a video message.
“God is still on his throne,” he said. “You and I can still trust him, and his mission for our lives is still there. And his mission goes forward.”