Since reading Robert Lewis’ book “Raising Modern Day Knights” several years ago, I’ve been taking special father-son trips with each of our three sons – before high school, after high school, and after college. Our youngest son Ethan graduated from high school in June, so last month he and I set out for Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming – the first trip there for either of us.
Yellowstone was Ethan’s choice. He said he wanted to go somewhere none of our family had been before, and to see and do some things I hadn’t already experienced with one of his older brothers.He was looking for pioneer territory.
And we found it. Because Yellowstone is the nation’s oldest national park, it has for generations been protected from development, and preserved in its natural state. Yes, there are roads, and along them a few lodges and campgrounds where carefully restrained visitors can stay and experience the park. But Yellowstone is still far more wilderness than civilization.
Spiritually speaking, our Illinois mission field is, like Yellowstone, more wilderness than civilization.And our churches are outposts in what is still very much a pioneer territory, especially for Southern Baptists, but really for all of evangelical Christianity.The Gospel simply has not advanced or spread as far here as it has in other parts of the nation.
Today the ratio of Southern Baptist churches to population in Mississippi and Alabama is 1:1,400, and 1:1,700 as far north as Kentucky. Yet here in Illinois the ratio is 1 church for every 12,300 in population.And of course on average our churches here are much smaller.
That’s why I invite your church to enthusiastically promote the Illinois Mission Offering this fall, and to ask every devoted church member to give generously through it.
Right now Illinois Baptists have 80 new churches in some stage of development or launch, and dozens of additional sites identified where churches are needed. Your state staff is traveling tirelessly among hundreds of existing churches, equipping them in evangelism, education, leadership, discipleship, worship, student ministry, missions, and more. And due to lower Cooperative Program receipts and reduced funding from the North American Mission Board, the Illinois Mission Offering is more important than ever.
Last year the IBSA family of churches stepped up and gave a record Illinois Mission Offering that was almost 17 percent higher than the previous year. That $65,000 increase has helped soften the blow of a $265,000 annual funding reduction from NAMB that began in 2012. Still it was necessary to trim back staff and ministries that serve churches here in Illinois.A strong 2012 Illinois Mission Offering will be our primary resource for continuing and strengthening ministries that no longer receive funding from the North American Mission Board. Your gifts will help us know how much you value those ministries.
We live in a pioneer territory. We have chosen to be biblical, evangelical Christians, to be Illinois Baptists, where there is more spiritual wilderness than civilization. Unlike Yellowstone, where the natural state is one of beauty and grandeur, the natural state of our mission field is one of spiritual darkness. Most of the people who live here with us are lost. They don’t know Jesus yet.
We’re not tourists here. We’re more like park rangers who live on site, year round, for the sake of the park’s natural inhabitants. When the park closes for the winter and most others go home, we bundle up and press on. We stick together, we cooperate, and we share and sacrifice. We’re not preserving the natural state of our mission field. We’re heaven bent on transforming it.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond to his column at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.