Once each year, the almost one thousand churches of the Illinois Baptist State Association are invited together into one place, for one large family gathering. The IBSA Annual Meeting, hosted this year at Cornerstone Church in Marion, is for many a “reunion” of long-time friends, co-laborers, and ministry partners. For others it is a time of networking, to forge new relationships and discover new resources and opportunities. For almost everyone, it’s an encouraging time of collective worship and collaborative missions partnership. We are Baptist churches, together, advancing the gospel here in Illinois.
The Tuesday-Wednesday IBSA Pastors’ Conference precedes the Wednesday-Thursday Annual Meeting, and this year the two events’ complementary themes are “Revive” and “Refocus.” These two simple words for me capture the essence of why these gatherings are so important.
The Pastors’ Conference focuses on preaching, worship, and practical ministry assistance. Each year I watch old friends and new acquaintances from across the state walk into the worship center of the Pastors’ Conference, usually with one of two postures. Some walk in tired, beleaguered, even oppressed. They manage a smile when I welcome them and usually say something like, “Well, it wasn’t easy to get here, but I made it. And I need this.”
Others walk in, Bible and notebook in hand, and simply seem eager to absorb, learn, and be refreshed. They often say something like, “I just enjoy being with other pastors, and worshiping and being fed.” Sometimes they’ll even joke that they hope to pick up a good sermon outline or two.
In both cases, these hard-working shepherds, staff members, or ministry spouses are looking to be revived—to be made “alive again”—for their often demanding and sometimes depleting ministry roles. Sometimes that happens during a sermon, or during a worship song. Sometimes it happens over coffee or dinner with a trusted friend from a different part of the state. I’m so grateful the Pastors’ Conference can help “revive” Illinois pastors.
The IBSA Annual Meeting also has times of inspiring worship and preaching, though it is, of necessity, at least part “business meeting.” Just as a devoted and tithing church member should be very interested in his or her church business meeting, churches who care about and give to the cooperative missions and ministries of the IBSA and SBC should be very interested in their state business meeting!
But through its annual theme and program, the IBSA Annual Meeting also seeks to bring a sense of common vision and challenge to its member churches and their leaders. For example, the “Pioneering Spirit” theme of 2017 hopefully contributed to the 6.8% increase in IBSA church baptisms in 2018, reversing a four-year decline. And we are eager to see the fruit being borne this year as a result of more than 200 Pioneering Spirit church commitments during the 2018 Annual Meeting, when we celebrated Illinois’ bicentennial.
“Refocus” is the theme of this year’s IBSA Annual Meeting, and it is an invitation for us to ask whether a refocused look at ourselves and our churches would lead us to a refocused view of Jesus, and then a refocused vision for the future. We at IBSA have been undergoing that very process, and among other things it has led us to a refocused vision for a more intentional church revitalization ministry that will be introduced at the Annual Meeting.
So whether your need is to “revive” or perhaps to “refocus,” I hope you will come with others from your church to the Baptist family reunion in Marion this Nov. 5-7. I think you will “rejoice” at what you experience as we worship and continue to work together.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.