“I need some fellowship for sure,” said one pastor on arrival at the Midwest Leadership Summit. Others said they came to the three-day event in Springfield for ministry ideas, for training as leaders, and to be charged up by good preaching.
It happened. It all happened.
“It’s good to be here, where people drink ‘pop’ and shop at Menards,” Illinois native Ben Mandrell told the crowd, who laughed at the regional references. Then he launched into a strong and revealing message.
“I don’t think we just hard a powerful word,” emcee Jeremy Westbrook said afterward. “We heard a prophetic word.”
After a full day of breakout sessions focusing on a dozen ministry specialties, attenders at the Summit returned for an evening worship session that spoke to the stresses of pastoral ministry that challenge faith. Mandrell, president of Lifeway Christian Resources, told of his own experiences since taking that post that coincided with the Covid pandemic, continued financial downturns, and the need to reinvent the ministry of the Southern Baptist publisher.
“66% of pastors say they are struggling to trust God,”Mandrell told leaders, citing recent Lifeway research. But he called them to “fierce optimism,” another term for faith.
“There have been times in the last two years where I have struggled to believe, where I have cried, where I wondered what did I get myself into… where waves of fear overwhelmed me,” Mandrell said. “Anybody who leads in ministry right now has days like that.”
But, Mandrell said, the people of the church are counting on their pastor to exercise bold faith. “The leader, if he is to be stable, must believe that God has the power to reverse a trend, to overcome statistics,” Mandrell said.
The former church planter in Colorado shared the hurdles he faced there that demanded unrelenting faith. Mandrell called this faith “the secret sauce” of Old Testament leaders. “Without a fierce optimism, the floor will collapse beneath you,” he said to amens.
“Faith is what separates the men from the boys, the big from the little in Christian history.”
Over 1,000 church leaders registered for the event, but rising Covid concerns appeared to limit attendance to about 850 who travelled from across the region to Springfield for the fourth consecutive time. In its second day, the Summit offered 70 breakouts sessions in 12 specialized tracks. Church leaders could attend up to six sessions in the training event unique to the Midwest.
The conference is a partnership between three SBC entities and nine Baptist conventions covering 12 states. National support was provided by Guidestone Financial Resources, the North American Mission Board, and Woman’s Missionary Union.
The state convention partners are Dakota Baptist Convention, Illinois Baptist State Association, State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, Baptist Convention of Iowa, Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, Baptist State Convention of Michigan, Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, Missouri Baptist Convention, and the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio.
The executive directors of those state conventions addressed the challenges of ministry in the region at a lunchtime panel discussion. The presentation was wide-ranging, but “outside the pandemic” as instructed by Tim Patterson of Michigan, who moderated the panel.
“The objective of a network of churches is to focus on the common ground that churches have,” said Nate Adams of Illinois. In a discussion on the use of social media, several state executives pointed to the divisive nature of contemporary communication.
“We look for things that unify us and bring us together,” Adams said. “Let’s not go out into the margins where there isn’t so much agreement.”
The new convention leader of the Dakotas, Fred McDonald, talked about the distance between SBC churches in his part of the country and a resulting sense of isolation. “Loneliness is an issue in the Dakotas,” McDonald said.
“Our churches are very spread out from each other. It creates loneliness among pastors, discouragement, and loneliness among pastors’ wives separated from family who live far away.” McDonald’s observations drew nods of recognition.
Kathy Litton also spoke about the emotional stresses for ministry wives at a packed breakout session. “It is our spiritual maturity that grows our emotional security,” she said. Litton is the wife of SBC President Ed Litton and Director of Planter Spouse Development for the North American Mission Board. “When pastors and their spouses work on their own emotional health, it’s a real gift to the church,” she told the women, quoting author Michael Hyatt.
“We should lead our heart, not follow it. The heart can lead to a downward spiral (to) depression,” Litton said. “We can lead the heart to trust God.”
David Martinez, a Mexican pastor of 23 years who is now planting churches in Nebraska, charged the leaders to look to the needs of their Samaria, referencing Acts 1:8. “Jesus was committed to reach poor and rich, old and young people, Jews and Gentile,” Martinez went on the name black and white, Hispanic and Somali and Karin and Burmese.
“We need to reach others,” he said. “We have our Samaria also.”
The Midwest Leadership Summit concludes with a half-day session on January 20.
Eric Reed is editor of Illinois Baptist media.