Worship was warm on a morning when temperatures were in the single digits in Springfield. But most of the attenders at the Midwest Leadership Summit are used to cold weather—colder that this.
The session concluded the three-day event that drew 850 church leaders from twelve states to Illinois for the biennial conference.
South Dakota Church Planter Jeffrey Mueller ignited the crowd with his challenge drawn from four shifts his plant made after a couple of years in existence—shifts in order that God might save the fledgling congregation, he said. Among them were disciplined prayer as a pastor and deeper connection to the Yankton community.
“We have to be part of the community and not a pocket community,” Mueller said. “Church planters all say we’re gonna be a different church, be part of the community. We said it, but we didn’t do it. Our outreach was only to get people to come hear me preach, and I wasn’t any good at preaching,” he said, drawing laughs.
“God said the command was to go to them, not for them to come to you.”
Restore Church in Yankton has started a second campus in nearby Crofton, Nebraska, and four ministry points. An indoor playground serving their financially challenged community, with a crisis pregnancy center in the basement below are located in a former church building.
Mueller and his wife returned to their small hometown after seminary to plant the church. “Our whole life, the community has cried out that there’s not enough free or affordable family fun. Most of the activities are drunken parties with the approval of the community.”
Restore Church responded with community connections that doubled as open doors for evangelism.
Mueller said his ministry changed when he took seriously this statement: The pastor should be well acquainted with the smell of the carpet in his office, not from being on his knees but from having his face on the floor before God.
A few moments later, Mueller was on his face on the platform at the Crowne Plaza in Springfield. “You might be one special shift away from discouragement to encouragement,” he said. Pastors and church leaders across the ballroom joined him in prayer with their faces on the carpet.
“Where will IMB get missionaries like Jeffrey?” Sandy Wisdom Martin asked after the season of prayer. “They will come from your church… At WMU we want to help your people develop a mission lifestyle.”
The Executive Director-Treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union reported briefly on a series of numbers related to WMU’s work that totaled 50,000. That’s roughly the number of SBC churches. As an Illinois native, Wisdom Martin frequently tells the story of her calling to mission service that was encouraged in her home church in Carbondale. She invited pastors and church leaders to call on WMU for mission support and education.
National WMU is one of the sponsors of the Summit, along with Guidestone Financial Services and the North American Mission Board. Nine Midwest Baptist state conventions covering twelve states work together to produce the event on a two-year cycle.
Willie McLaurin, Vice President for Great Commission Relations and Mobilization for the SBC Executive Committee brought an energetic message in the final plenary service. He focused on unity in the Southern Baptist Convention, drawing his message from Acts 1-2.
“We need to get on the same side of the rope and pull together,” McLaurin said after describing his childhood tug-of-war games.
He recited a list of differences among Southern Baptists, including theology, ethnicity, and politics. “We don’t need to focus on a donkey or an elephant, we need to focus on the Lamb,” he said as the crowd applauded. “We have one enemy and he is already defeated!”
McLaurin delved briefly into the coming of Holy Spirit at Pentecost and its impact on the early church. Drawing comparisons to today’s church, he said, “Everyone wants a feeling, but what we need is the filling of the Holy Spirit. If we are filled there is a living, breathing gospel urgency. We need to get busy getting people off the road to hell and on the way to heaven….
There is not one problem the church has that soul winning cannot solve.”
McLaurin concluded, “Any way you slice it, we are Great Commission Baptists, because we are better together.”
The next Midwest Leadership Summit will likely be planned for 2024.
Eric Reed is editor of Illinois Baptist media.