A consultant assisting IBSA with strategic planning recently challenged us with this question: “Why does Illinois need a Southern Baptist brand of disciple?”
He wasn’t downplaying the Great Commission nor disparaging Southern Baptists. He was making the point that there are many other Christian groups in Illinois, in fact, many other evangelical groups. Especially in a northern state like Illinois, why are Southern Baptist churches needed, and why start other Southern Baptist churches?
It’s an appropriate question as September approaches and state and regional conventions around the SBC (including Illinois) will be praying for missions and taking up their missions offerings. While we are grateful for all Christ-centered, biblically faithful churches, we believe the churches of our network and the missions work we do together bring unique, valuable and powerful benefits to the mission field.
So as we focus on state missions during this season, here are three answers to the question, “Why does Illinois need Southern Baptists?” I believe the answers will apply to your state too.
1. Communities need Southern Baptists because we not only deliver the Gospel, but teach doctrine that we believe most clearly interprets the Bible.
The Baptist Faith and Message, last updated in 2000, is a surprisingly brief yet powerfully clear statement that gives trustworthy guidance in the Bible’s most central truths. Those truths still meet the most pressing needs of our world today.
Some people think that all Christians believe the same things or interpret the Bible the same way. But Baptists hold to unique and important beliefs about the authority of the Bible and the autonomy, leadership, and ordinances of the local church. We believe differently than some other Christian groups about how salvation takes place, and whether it lasts or can be lost. Baptists have increasingly countercultural beliefs about gender, sexuality, marriage, and the sanctity of life. Pastors trained in SBC schools and church members being discipled with SBC resources can be confident that they are building their lives on a clear understanding of God’s unchanging Word.
2. Communities need Southern Baptists because disciples and churches here are launching pads for sending the Gospel everywhere.
Each year, thousands of new believers profess faith in Christ through Illinois Baptist Churches. New church plants often lead the way in the ratio of new believers to church members. Many of these hear the gospel because our network provides training, resources, strategies, or events for intentional evangelism.
Our national SBC mission boards then facilitate volunteer participation alongside thousands of career missionaries in evangelistic missions and church planting. Just think how challenging and slow worldwide mission work would be if each church had to attempt it on its own.
3. Communities need Southern Baptists because we are a unique gift as a people.
Many, though certainly not all, of us have some background in southern culture, and that often translates to a wonderful warmth and friendliness in church culture, not to mention some pretty good cooking. Many of us grew up learning the Bible and loving missions, and that heart for the Lord and for the lost helps turn our churches inside out into our communities. Our churches have grown diverse in their ethnicities, music preferences, geographies, and sizes, equipping us to reach many different kinds of people. Each church is a missionary!
Southern Baptists are not perfect by a long stretch. But when we are at our best, our churches and the disciples they are making are loving and unique gifts from God to lost people everywhere.