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Summit goers unhindered by ice storm

Midwest Leadership Summit opening session worship. Photo by Kevin Ferstl, Church Forward, KNCSB

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP) – Two days of snow turned to rain and ice threatened, but the weather failed to stop those headed to the 2024 Midwest Leadership Summit in Springfield. With 1,000 people from nine Baptist conventions covering 12 states signed up for the three-day conference, registration was brisk at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Tuesday (Jan 23). The biennial event brings church leaders from the region together for leadership training and encouragement for ministry as Southern Baptists outside the South.

Called the best event of its type in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Summit offers three plenary (and worship) sessions and 60 breakout sessions in 10 leadership development tracks.

On the agenda for this year’s conference are:

  • Lifeway Christian Resources President Ben Mandrell
  • Guidestone Financial Resources President Hance Dilbeck
  • Guidestone Director of Pastoral Wellness Mark Dance
  • North American Mission Board Vice President Trevin Wax
  • NAMB Send Network President Vance Pitman
  • Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Assistant Professor Jared Wilson
  • Woman’s Missionary Union Executive Director Sandy Wisdom-Martin

Mandrell opened the activities on Tuesday with an early bird session on “the short bench,” the difficulty faced by many churches in finding and developing leaders.

“Multiplication is one of the most intimidating things in ministry,” Mandrell said of raising up leaders. He cited statistics showing that in some states, as many as 27 percent of churches are searching for pastors – a process that is harder and takes longer than in times past. “Who is the next generation, and how will we find them?” Mandrell asked.

Using Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan for Evangelism as a guide, Mandrell offered eight steps for a mentoring process that draws young people into ministry in the same way Coleman advocated sharing the Gospel in his classic work. “You can’t mentor in a microwave,” the Tampico, Ill., native and Colorado church planter said. Mentoring takes time. Mandrell illustrated from the pastor who mentored him early in his ministry.

“Jesus was always building His ministry for the time He was gone,” Mandrell told the packed room. “How would your agenda shift if God said, ‘You’re going to be out of there in three years’? Jesus was always working himself out of his job.”

In the opening plenary session, church planter Stephen Love of Redemption City Church in South Bend, Ind., pointed out that people are drawn to a vision that is bigger than themselves, as he told the story of his church planting. The Chicago native said, “Our goal is never to fill the seats, but to fulfill the Great Commission.”

NAMB’s Trevin Wax set the stage for the event with a clear depiction of the mission field, especially outside the buckle of the Bible Belt. He addressed the explosion of pseudo-religions in the age of the “be true to yourself” mindset. “We have to stop thinking about other religions or non-religions. … We have to answer ‘Why Christianity?’, but also why not all those other quasi, pseudo religions.”

The core tenet of the era is “expressive individualism,” Wax said, which finds its definition and meaning within the person, rather than from an outside source, such as the Gospel. This worldview creates so many versions of reality that it results in isolation and loneliness. “The beauty of the Gospel is that it does not isolate us,” Wax said.

Worship is being led by David Higgs, Associate Pastor of Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Ill., and a team of seven from Illinois churches.

The Wednesday schedule includes five breakout slots, a luncheon hosted by GuideStone Financial Resources and an evening plenary session. The Summit concludes on Thursday after one more breakout slot and a final plenary session.

The Midwest Leadership Summit started as the North Central States Rally in the mid-1950s to encourage Baptists in a largely unreached area outside the SBC stronghold. The rally was staged between two SBC annual meetings in Chicago in 1950 and 1957. It was part of a move to create new local associations and plant churches in midwestern cities. The event met every three years, then switched to every two years in 2018.

In the Midwest today, self-identified evangelicals range from 18.7 percent in Wisconsin to 32.7 percent in Missouri. Illinois claims 23.7 percent evangelical believers.