It’s a long drive back to Illinois from the mountains of Colorado. When our family, or one of my mountain-climbing sons and I make that drive, we are often physically exhausted from the past week of hiking. Yet our homebound conversation always includes one key topic—what are the next mountains we will climb?
That conversation always includes assessment—what happened on these last mountains, and what did we learn? It requires self-evaluation—how did each of us do, and do we need different preparation, or different equipment, or a different approach next time? And that leads to planning—what mountains are still before us, and what will it take to conquer them?
As an association of churches here in Illinois, what are our next mountains? Given where we’ve been, and what we have learned, what are the next challenges we must get ready to face? Those are the questions that were running through my mind as I prepared my report to the messengers at the IBSA Annual Meeting in Marion November 6-7. Let me summarize how I answered them.
To begin with, certain priorities that have always been paramount continue to deserve our attention. Missions, evangelism, church planting, leader training and development, all based on sound doctrine, have long been the foundational reasons we cooperate as Baptist churches. These are the “front range” mountains that we must continue to climb. And climbing them together is so much easier and so much more effective than seeking to climb them alone.
But two new mountains are emerging on the horizon.
First, there is the mountain of protecting religious freedom. Some of our nation’s most aggressive and egregious legislation is now being advanced here in Illinois, in areas such as abortion, LGBTQ indoctrination, co-ed bathrooms and locker rooms, and other affronts to biblical morality. Churches are under increasing risk of becoming victims of that legislation, or even targets of litigation if they don’t comply.
While this is not an arena that we as IBSA enter eagerly, we now find it necessary to help provide churches with preventative legal assistance, through our partnership with Alliance Defending Freedom. With just a few clicks on the IBSA website, any IBSA church can now arrange to have its key governing and policy documents reviewed, and to have recommendations for religious freedom protections provided, all by a qualified Christian attorney.
IBSA is also now partnering with religious freedom organizations such as the Thomas More Society and the Mauck & Baker law firm, to appeal for exemptions from the “Reproductive Health Act” for churches and religious organizations, and to challenge religious discrimination by Illinois cities that do not allow churches or church plants to purchase property in certain zones where other institutions can.
The second mountain we find before us, at least with a new urgency, is the mountain of church revitalization. While IBSA has long provided resources and events in the area of church health, declining nationwide and statewide trends in church attendance, Bible study participation, and baptisms beckon us to do more.
So with new staff, strategy, and resources budgeted for 2020, IBSA will be offering churches a heightened level of consultation and options in the area of revitalization. We will be advocating for “perpetual revitalization,” meaning that all churches, even growing or stable churches, can benefit from honest assessment, adjustments, and revisioning. But we are especially eager to offer a more intentional revitalization strategy to churches that find themselves “stuck” or in decline.
Of course, these new mountains won’t be easy. None of them are. But I’m glad we as Illinois Baptists are climbing them together.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.