Springfield | Ministry in the Midwest has ups and downs, successes and struggles. The work of advancing the gospel in a diverse, large region requires creativity, perseverance, and a willingness to sacrifice personal preference.
With their common calling in mind, more than 1,000 leaders from 13 Midwest states gathered in Springfield Jan. 23-25 at the Midwest Leadership Summit, a meeting organized every three years by Southern Baptist state conventions in the region.
“We share the same love for our communities and vision to see people come to Christ,” said Tim Burgess, a pastor in Mt. Vernon, Mo., “and getting together is a great reminder that we are not working at this alone.”
The large-group sessions and more than 90 breakouts tackled specific ministries—college campuses, church planting, missions, women, youth, and Disaster Relief, to name a few. Underlying each session was the need to advance the gospel in a culture that’s moving farther away from biblical truth. In our culture of change, one thing has stayed the same, said Detroit’s Darryl Gaddy.
“You look around and notice that nothing stays the same,” said the urban church planting specialist in his keynote address to open the Summit. “Nothing is as it was ten, five, or even two years ago.
“But actually there is one thing that does stay the same. Sin. Oh, the consistency of brokenness. It never takes a vacation. But friends, we are the church. And we, like Peter who raised the lame man up in the name of Jesus Christ, are called to speak into the brokenness.”
Gaddy urged Midwest leaders to be “agents of change” in their communities, which will require obedience when it’s not convenient, becoming less so others can become more, and giving up their rights to someone else—Jesus.
“We have received information for our heads, inspiration for our hearts, and implementation for our hands,” Gaddy said. “Let’s not leave here the same way we came.”
God at work
Like the Midwest itself, leaders in Springfield for the Summit represented a wide variety of contexts, including places where new churches are making inroads into previously unreached communities. North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell facilitated a discussion with four planters who took to the main stage to talk about strategy, cooperation, and the power of prayer.
“There is a quote that I always go to when I think about our church,” said David Choi, pastor of Church of the Beloved in Chicago. “When men work, they work. But when men pray, God works. The great church planter is the Lord. Recruit prayer warriors to lift up your ministry because that’s truly the secret sauce.”
In a few years, Choi’s church has grown from one—himself—to encompass hundreds meeting for worship every weekend. He credited God for the growth, and the prayers of people who live far from his city but have made it a point to lift up Church of the Beloved.
Ezell also introduced Paul Sabino, pastor of Candeo Church on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. Sabino is part of The Salt Network, a family of next-generation churches working together to plant churches in major university cities.
“We are seeing the power of God on us and it’s like holding a Dixie cup; it’s overflowing and we can’t contain it,” Sabino said. “Jesus said he would make us fishers of men. The fish are on college campuses and they are hungry. They are crying out for the living God to impact their lives.”
The focus on church planting was encouraging for Christine Watkins, who came to the Summit as a member of Jachin Baptist Church, a 10-month-old church plant in Flint, Mich. Her husband, Derrick, is pastor of the church named for a word found in 1 Kings 7:21. Jachin means “the Lord will establish,” Watkins said.
“I think attending this summit and hearing all the great knowledge and stories of how God has blessed young church plants is part of how God is opening doors and giving direction in how he is going to establish our church.”
‘Pray bigger prayers’
Jeff Iorg, President of Gateway Seminary in Ontario, Ca., understands what it means to advance the gospel in difficult environments.
“Much of what you are experiencing now in the Midwest we experienced 30 years ago in California,” he said during the Summit’s final session. “It seems like an impossible task with formidable obstacles…Yet, I’m here to tell you the gospel is advancing on the West Coast, and healthy churches are growing with denominational influence and cooperation.”
Iorg said the reason for the gospel’s advancement, especially in a hostile cultural environment, can be found in John 14.
“Jesus said in verse 12, ‘I assure you: The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.’
“‘And he will do even greater works than these’—that is quite a sober declaration of Scripture,” Iorg said. “Do you believe the word of God? Do you believe Jesus meant what he said?”
Iorg encouraged leaders to pray and ask God for what is worthy to be asked for in Jesus’ name and to surrender control to the Holy Spirit.
“Confess your powerlessness and ask the Holy Spirit for the filling, guiding, and directing,” he said. “So often, we start to rely on our own strategic plans. That’s not going to work. We must depend on the filling of the Holy Spirit to get the mission done.”
The last step to advancing the gospel in this cultural environment is to teach people to read, understand, and obey the Bible. Iorg said the only time he has seen people transformed is when they engage God’s Word.
“No games, no gimmicks,” Iorg said. “Pray bigger prayers in the name of Jesus. Work in the Holy Spirit’s power and trust him to do supernatural things in you. And find a way to teach people to internalize the Word of God. That’s it. Now let’s go home and do it.”
“I gained better insight on how to evangelize Millennials. I’m re-looking at the dynamics of church and the things you used to do that don’t work anymore. It’s not about religion, it’s about relationships.”
– Gary West, pastor, North Benton Baptist Church, and director of missions, Franklin Association
“I liked the diversity of the tracks available to different people in different contexts. Because I’m from southern Illinois, I’ve got to say, it was a buffet of learning.”
– Matt Crain, pastor, First Baptist Church, Christopher
“My favorite part was the worship time. It was great being together with other brothers and sisters in Christ, worshiping together the One who created us all.”
– Brianna Trowbridge, pastor’s wife, Samaria Missionary Baptist Church, Albion
“I came to be refreshed and renewed and to learn to be better in my evangelistic leadership role in my church and association. I came away with ideas, and very encouraged and challenged to be better.”
– Jerry Montgomery, pastor, Casey Avenue Baptist Church, Mt. Vernon
“We are part of a small church in a rural community and this Summit has been full of great information that we can take back with us and mull over. We may not change the world, but if we implement some of the ideas and strategies we learned here, we might see something great happen in our community.”
– Janet Yocum, member, Mullen Baptist Church, Montrose
Kayla Rinker is a freelance writer living in Missouri.