by Staff/Illinois Baptist
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP) — “Listen to me, Midwest, the Father is seeking worshippers,” Frank S. Page intoned. “Every man, woman, boy and girl on this globe needs to hear this message.”
Page, the SBC’s self-described “Chief Encouragement Officer,” rallied church leaders to advance the Gospel in a region where Southern Baptists are relatively few and often far between. “I’m not trying to build a bigger denomination,” the president of the SBC’s Executive Committee said, “I’m trying to encourage you to help bring worshippers to Christ.”
Spiritual awakening and church revitalization were key themes of the Midwest Leadership Summit, Jan. 20-22 in Springfield, Ill.
“What we need, more than a strategy, more than a plan, we need a fresh awakening,” Kansas pastor Andy Addis preached in the opening session. “We want to see God do amazing things, we want to be His hands and feet, that’s why we’re here!”
More than 1,000 pastors and church leaders from the Upper Midwest gathered for the inspirational equipping conference held every three years. Called the North Central States Rally since its inception 50 years ago, the summit was renamed this year as it expanded to include 10 Baptist conventions representing 13 states, from West Virginia to the Dakotas.
The Illinois Baptist State Association hosted the event at the Springfield Crowne Plaza Hotel, providing a more central location as the summit’s territory expanded on the western side. IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams chaired the planning committee.
“We drove 10 hours to get here,” one conferee from South Dakota said at the registration desk, telling how his association invited church leaders and brought them in a van.
“It took us two days,” a North Dakota pastor in a bolo tie responded, “but it’ll be worth it.” The buzz in the lobby was positive, as returning attenders told newcomers the value of a meeting for leaders who share the challenges of ministry outside the traditional Southern Baptist stronghold.
Henry Hall has been attending the conference since 1984. The director of missions for Salem South (Ill.) Baptist Association said the gathering was originally designed “for the smaller churches, mission churches, where the pastors are spread out [though] most of our churches in the southern part (of Illinois), we’re not as spread out,” Hall said.
“But around the rest of the country, you’ve got to go a long time to find another pastor. And by getting a group together that are all in the same boat, it’s very effective to help them in learning and being what God would have them to be.”
Tony Manning lives in Fishers, Ind., a community of 85,000 people, without a single Southern Baptist church — yet. “The need for everyone is the Gospel, and that doesn’t change from East Coast to West Coast,” said Manning, a church planting and mission teams strategist. “But what does change is how to do things. It’s important to understand the Midwest perspective and how to leverage that in sharing the Gospel: How do you do it in Indiana? In Iowa? In Wisconsin?”
Woodie Ladnier has pastored in Iowa since 1991. Recently called to a new congregation, he came looking for fresh ministry ideas. “You know you’re not in the Bible Belt. People in the Midwest are friendly but you have to earn their trust. You have to be more intentional because your ol’ buddies aren’t just gonna go to church with you.”
The three-day summit was sponsored by the North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, national WMU and the 10 state conventions. Conferees attended three large-group sessions, filling the hotel’s largest ballroom with praises. (“Bless the Lord, O my soul, O-o-o my soul,” they sang, with those three bass thumps ahead of the gutsy response “10,000 reasons for my soul to find…” echoing off the walls.)
Between worship sessions, leaders chose from 135 breakout sessions, state meetings, and affinity groups.
Robert Sterling knew his decision to attend the Midwest Leadership Summit was the right one after the first night. “I called my wife when I got back to the hotel room and said, ‘Well, I just got a spiritual ‘kicking’ and it was just what I needed,'” said the pastor of Windsor Baptist Church in Imperial, Mo.
Addis, lead pastor of CrossPoint Church, a video-driven multi-site church with 11 campuses across Kansas, based his message during the opening session on Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). Sterling said Addis “reminded us that God expects His church to bear fruit. Not hopes; expects. Not wants; expects. That concept really resonated with me.”
Sterling came to the summit with the intention of finding both guidance and practical tools to bring revitalization to his church. He found what he needed in the event’s numerous breakout sessions, in sessions on revival, spiritual awakening, evangelism and leadership. He said each of them offered both insight and applicable advice.
“In one of the sessions the speaker said that more than double the baptisms occur in churches that offer evangelism training than those that don’t,” Sterling said. He also learned that though a calendar full of events and programs may not be the best way to win souls to Christ, planning to pray is.
“We need to have more opportunities to pray,” Sterling said. “God uses whatever methods or means to reach people, but the opportunity to seek prayer is vital.
“Honestly, each of the sessions was very encouraging in terms of reminding us of truths we already know but often get lost or forgotten when you are in the middle of the forest,” Sterling said. “Probably my number one takeaway from this is that if I want the church to be revitalized and have a true love of God, I need to make sure that’s where my focus is, too. I need to become what I want them to become.”
Tim Batchelor has pastored Bethel Baptist Church in Princeton, Ill., since 2010. Originally from North Carolina, he has found similarities between his upbringing (both of his grandfathers were farmers) and the rural northwest Illinois community he serves. But there are difference as well.
“In North Carolina, if you took the county that I grew up in, there are probably more Southern Baptist churches just in that county than in the entire northwest region of Illinois, and Sinnissippi Baptist Association specifically.”
Asked if his region of Illinois feels unchurched, Batchelor said yes.
“We were talking about that last night at dinner a little bit, and even on our way from our hotel to the session last night. Yeah, it does feel that way, and the need for church planting in particular.
“Sinnissippi Baptist Association has a really ambitious planting strategy; I think it’s just fantastic. But yeah, the need for church planting is huge.”
Aidyl Lesada is from a Filipino congregation of about 100 people in Taylor, Mich. “We are a mother church,” she said of Philippine International Church, which has planted several Filipino congregations in the area and one just across the Canadian border.
There are about 20,000 Filipino people in Michigan who “come here to work and pursue that American dream,” Lesada said. “[T]hey give their life, their time for that, and so I guess church … will just be on the side for them, for them to feel good about it.”
Many have a Catholic background, so making the distinction between faith in Christ and cultural religion is important. In Lesada’s church are Filipinos who came to America to work in professional fields and are now raising second- and third-generation children. Like her own son and daughter. Laughing, she described them this way: “They’re Filipinos, but they’re not Filipinos.”
Laura Chapman, pastor’s wife from Red Bud, Ill., attended her first Midwest Leadership Summit, found breakout sessions that spoke some of her languages — statistics and social media.
First Baptist Church in Red Bud is medium-sized and located on the edge of the Metro East area. But the church doesn’t have many millennials, she said, so a breakout on using social media to reach younger people was helpful.
“You know, there are a lot of people in our churches that don’t know what hashtags are, or keywords, or current things that reach people we’re not reaching,” Chapman said. “And I think just the how-to’s, the nuts and bolts of ‘you gotta update your website, you just have to do that…’ helps bring in generations that we’re not reaching. That was very helpful and easy to implement.”
One breakout session leader at the summit said if millennials can’t find a Facebook page for a church, they wonder what that church is hiding. Chapman understands that kind of thinking. “Nobody in my generation and below trusts people … that’s kind of our thing. So, help them to know you.”
This wasn’t the first summit for Donald Johnson, pastor of Destiny Baptist Church of Christ in Rock Island, Ill. He traveled to Indianapolis for the “North Central States Rally,” as it was called before this year, and was glad for a slightly shorter commute — three hours instead of five.
“But wherever it is, I’m willing to go, because of the value that we get out of it…. We’ve been enriched,” said Johnson, whose church is part of Quad Cities Baptist Association.
Destiny’s vision statement is based in Isaiah 56:7, “to be a house of prayer for all races of people.” Their goal is to be multi-racial rather than multi-cultural, Johnson said. “There’s not going to be a segregated heaven, so I don’t want to have a segregated church.”
He was moved by Gary Frost’s closing sermon, which focused in part on the dangers children and teenagers face today. Frost, a vice president with the North American Mission Board, “got into my neighborhood, which is the same neighborhood he has,” Johnson said. “We deal with the matter of significant fatherlessness.”
Frost’s message focused on returning to “the valley” after a mountaintop experience. Speaking on Jesus’ transfiguration in Mark 9, he noted how Peter wanted to build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
“For me, it was good to be here,” Johnson said. “But I’m not going to be like Peter and John and say, ‘Let’s build three tabernacles here on the mountain and stay.’
“Because we gotta get back to the valley.”