In 1852 when Gustaf Palmquist started the First Swedish Baptist Church in Rock Island, IL. In 1856, the Swedish Baptist Churches came together for their first gathering in Illinois. Did they see in their mind’s eye what impact they could have on the generations to come?
No, I don’t think so. I think these pastors and lay leaders just focused on the daily tasks of meeting with God, reading their bibles, devoting time to prayer. They focused on reaching the lost, making disciples, developing leaders, and starting new churches, all the while simply trusting God with the results.
Twenty-three years ago, if you were to ask me if we would have our gathering of the MidAmerica Churches translated in French and simulcasted to Orlando. I would have said, “No way! No How! Not going to happen!”
And yet, we as pastors and leaders in MidAmerica focused on the small things that moved us in the right direction with consistency and faithfulness, trusting God with the results. Here are a few of my personal reflections on Connect 2021 that I believe can serve us as we move forward in the future.
We are servants who show up.
Our team never takes for granted that our primary constituency is busy, overworked pastors and lay leaders in our local churches. And yet, you all consistently show up for Together Groups, Prayer Meetings, Celebration Events, and our Connect Gatherings. This year was no different in a day where the average church’s in-person gatherings are 60% down from pre-COVID numbers. We hit about 50% of attendance both in Chicago and Orlando from previous years. 255 pastors and leaders represented. In Cap-Haitien, Haiti, we had over 400 pastors and leaders show up. Some traveled nine hours to attend to avoid the gang-infested travel routes. We were humbled, and in awe, of the sacrifices these pastors and lay leaders made to show up for Connect.
We are a people who are advancing on our knees.
We are so proud to be serving a group of pastors and lay leaders committed to prayer. As in the previous Connect gatherings, you not only showed up, but you showed up to pray. It was so encouraging to see the overwhelming attendance at the PrayerFirst Gathering this year. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “And in movements of the Spirit, the first thing that happens and which eventually leads to a great revival is that one man or a group of men suddenly begin to feel this burden and they feel the burden so much that they are led to do something about it.”
Thank you for feeling that burden to pray and acting on it with us.
We are a family enjoying a great season of unity.
This year in our business meeting, we needed to make some necessary changes to our bylaws, in light of the merger and the new reality of the size of our region. Before, during, and after our business meeting, the discussion of the changes was healthy, vibrant, and unifying. Even leading to one pastor voting his conscience with a dissenting vote.
For me, that is healthy. As for the board, even though we believed these recommendations were the right thing to do at the time, we held them lightly because our members are the final say when it comes to these governance issues. We were certainly prepared for any motions to be made on the floor for other considerations or concerns. In the end, every recommendation was passed unanimously except for the one dealing with the quorum, which had one dissenting vote. Again, all board members were affirmed to serve their appointed terms.
Interestingly, we had our strongest quorum in the 23 years I have been associated with Converge MidAmerica at 48%. Nearly half of our churches showed up for Connect 2021. We thank God for this unifying spirit that He has granted us during this season.
We are a fellowship experiencing a growing level of generosity.
It was a year ago that we voted to see the merger between MidAmerica and Southeast take place. We have said it before, yet it bears repeating: this merger only happened because of the incredible generosity of the MidAmerica churches. The only reason we could do this merger is because of the financial health of the district. This year the Converge MidAmerica churches hit a massive milestone by breaking 1 million dollars in giving to our regional district. Because of your church’s faithful support of the Converge MidAmerica Partners Fund, we can start, strengthen, and serve our churches. In ten months, we saw increased participation from the Southeast Churches, which grew from 16% of the churches giving in 2020 to 39% giving to the Converge Southeast Partners Fund in 2021. We are so encouraged at the strides in giving that the churches are making in the Southeast. Remember Paul’s encouragement to the church in Corinth. “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us, your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (II Corinthians 9:10-11). May God give us churches that are enriched in every way so that they can be generous on every occasion!
We are a tribe who is realizing every day that we really are better together.
Over the last ten years, together, we have mobilized 113 church planting couples. (23 in the previous year. Momentum is building). Over the last ten years, we together have welcomed 99 newly affiliated churches into our fellowship of churches. Over the last ten years together, we have seen over 75 churches navigate pastoral transitions. Over the last ten years, we have helped over 500 pastors get the personal help they needed in a crisis. We have collectively helped fund over 2000 new churches in Nepal and Northern India in the last four years. Together in the last four years, we have collectively seen 3300 children sponsored through Compassion International. Over the last ten years, we have seen 1000’s of children and youth come to Jesus through our camp and retreat ministries. We are increasingly convinced that we are better together and that God is using our joint efforts in his great redemptive plan.
So let us keep showing up, advancing on our knees, striving towards unity, growing in generosity, and realizing that we are better together. As we keep doing the small things on a daily basis, God will show up, and we will see him do things beyond all we can ask or imagine.
This is just a special note to the MidAmerica, Southeast, and Caribbean teams that pulled off a historic event with a heroic effort. The sacrifice from our administrative staff, our missionaries in the Caribbean, the army of volunteers, tech teams, and the host churches does not go unnoticed. To our workshop leaders, worship leaders, board members, and executive team, I am so proud to be associated with such a high caliber of godly and talented leaders. May we continue to feel the Lord’s hand upon us as we seek to be in the center of his great redemptive mission.