"Last year we introduced this as the 'heart cry' for our work together as churches," Nate Adams, the association's executive director said. "Illinois is our mission field. Yes, the Illinois Baptist State Association is who we are, but 'Mission Illinois' describes what we must do!"
For two days at the Springfield Hilton, 455 registered messengers and 41 visitors heard reports focused on the business side of cooperation, and celebrated how God is drawing people to Himself through the planting of new churches across the state.
Messengers gathered just blocks away from where, one week earlier, Illinois lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The challenge of being the church in the current culture was a topic for speakers at the Pastors' Conference and the annual meeting, and the subject of a resolution unanimously adopted by messengers.
"The value system is shifting so we look like the bad guys, the outlaws, the bigots. We haven't changed, the world keeps getting darker and darker," said Gary Frost, the North American Mission Board's vice president for the Midwest, during the Nov. 13-14 meeting. Frost challenged Illinois churches toward boldness, and clarity in presenting the Gospel.
"If I'm going to have surgery," he said, referring to Jesus' life-changing message, "please don't use a butter knife. Use a scalpel."
Pat Pajak, the association's associate executive director of church strengthening, presented the first of three theme interpretations during the annual meeting.
"What connects such a diverse group, a unique group of people? What brings us together?" he asked. "The first thing that connects Illinois Baptists together is our unified belief in Jesus Christ and Christ alone."
The state association welcomed 12 newly affiliating churches into fellowship. The association's Credentials Committee also recommended the association disaffiliate with 22 churches that have been non-cooperating for about ten years.
In his report, Adams told messengers that leader development is an essential part of the association's work, and an opportunity previously thought closed may still be possible. The Illinois Baptist State Association(IBSA) Board has authorized the study of development of a leadership center. A 30-acre site including a 9,000-square-foot house and a three-acre pond and gardens, located about one mile from the IBSA building in Springfield, remains on the market at a reduced price.
"The IBSA board and I are diligently asking the Lord if He has been preparing this place for spiritual renewal for IBSA pastors and leaders," Adams said. He shared the story of a respected mentor who opened a bed and breakfast as a way to bless the people who came to stay. The personal renewal made possible in that type of setting is what Adams said he hopes to see happen for IBSA pastors and leaders. Adams invited input from attenders at a table in the exhibit hall. The board is expected to make a decision early next year.
IBSA's Resolutions and Christian Life Committee brought five resolutions to messengers. Each of them were affirmed without discussion. The highest profile issue tackled by the committee: the definition of marriage.
"The Resolution on the Preservation of Biblical Marriage and Affirmation of Religious Liberty of Illinois Churches and Faith-Based Organizations" calls for the protection of religious conviction amid the changing cultural climate.
"Messengers call on all courts, legislators, and elected officials to affirm the religious liberty of local congregations and faith-based organizations to operate in accordance with their theological principles," according to the resolution, making specific reference to the performance of marriage ceremonies and wedding-related celebrations.
The resolution urges Illinois Baptist churches to examine their constitutions and bylaws, and to adopt statements specifically defining their theological stance on marriage.
In other resolutions, messengers condemned human exploitation, opposed gaming expansion in Illinois, and celebrated the 125th anniversary of Woman's Missionary Union. They also unanimously approved a resolution on "repentance and evangelism" that declared many members of IBSA churches "have been disobedient to the Lord Jesus Christ and sinned by failing in their responsibility" to share the Gospel. It called on them to repent and to make evangelism "a primary focus and purpose of their lives on earth."
Wednesday evening's worship service focused on church planting and cooperation.
"The greatest need we have in establishing new churches in these vast population centers is not planning, or expertise, or even funding," Adams noted in his report. "We simply don't have enough church planters or team members willing to join them."
Adams announced the formation of a new relationship with Judson University in Elgin, Ill. Judson will offer a church planting certificate to students who partner with Southern Baptist church planters in Chicagoland. IBSA will also partner with the university for "GO Week," a student missions camp next summer.
Eight planters, some in attendance and some on video, followed that theme as they described how their churches are the products of much prayer and partnership by their families, leadership teams and fellow Baptists.
John Stillman and Ken Schultz, an engineer and an entertainer, planted CrossWinds Church in 2005. The bivocational pastors were called out of Friendship Baptist Church in Plainfield to start something new in the southwest Chicago suburb.
"The ground's pretty hard here," Schultz said in a video testimony. "You have to spend a lot of time building relationships. People have very little church in their background." Since Crosswinds started, 60 percent of the people they've reached are new Christians.
After the planters' testimonies, messengers walked the aisles to commit to praying, partnering, or planting a new church.
Odis Weaver, Stillman's and Schultz' former pastor at Friendship Baptist, was elected president of the convention after serving two years as vice president. He follows outgoing president Jonathan Peters, pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbia.
Also elected were Kevin Carrothers, vice president, pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church; Melissa Carruthers, recording secretary, Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville; and Patty Hulskotter, assistant recording secretary, Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman.
Messengers approved budgets from all three IBSA boards -– the Illinois Baptist State Association, Baptist Foundation of Illinois, and Baptist Children's Home and Family Services. IBSA's Cooperative Program goal for 2014 is $6.6 million, an increase of $100,000 over 2013's goal. Illinois sends 43.25 percent of CP gifts to the Southern Baptist Convention for national and international missions, the fifth-highest percentage of all 42 state conventions.
Advancing the Gospel
Two Illinois pastors called churches to engage lost people in their communities, and to work together to reach the urban areas of St. Louis and Chicago.
"God saves sinners with the preaching of the Gospel," outgoing president Peters said in his final president's message. "Wouldn't it make sense that we need Gospel-driven, Gospel-preaching churches across our state?" Growing up in Chicago, Peters didn't hear the Gospel until college.
"Every single community in Illinois and in my hometown of Chicago needs thousands of churches to draw people to Christ."
Tim Lewis, pastor Bethel Baptist Church in Troy, pleaded with churches during the annual sermon to reach out to those in need of the Gospel, remembering their own former lostness.
"We were those on the outside," Lewis said, preaching from the parable of the banquet in Luke 14. "We were the Gentiles. We were those who were far off and now brought near. I'm telling you what -- Hallelujah!"
A floor-to-ceiling world map in the exhibit hall reminded messengers that their mission field extends beyond Illinois. Visitors were invited to write their name on a round sticker and place it where they went on mission in 2013, or plan to go next year.
IBSA churches reported sending out more than 27,000 missions volunteers last year, a 34.5 percent increase over the previous year. Relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy drew younger people in particular, pushing the numbers of volunteers up significantly. "That's something worth celebrating," Adams said.
And many more congregations have accepted the challenge to reach their Acts 1:8 mission fields. "I remember eight years ago before I came on staff, making a presentation on the Acts 1:8 challenge to about 20 IBSA churches," Adams said during the meeting. "Today, 249 churches have embraced the Acts 1:8 strategy."
But there's much work still left to do.
"There are 2.8 billion people alone in the 10/40 window that have not been reached with the Gospel," said Mark Emerson, associate executive director of missions. "We can't stop. We've got to keep going."
Next year's Pastors' Conference and annual meeting will be Nov. 4-6 at the Springfield Crowne Plaza.
Compiled by the staff at the Illinois Baptist, the newspaper of the Illinois Baptist State Association.
Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net