COLUMBIA, Md.—Church planting is in Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s (BCM/D) DNA. It’s part of the mission statement, a primary focus, an ongoing strategy to fulfill the Great Commission. It’s been successful. Last year, BCM/D church planters started 31 new works including African, Anglo, Asian, Indian, Burmese, Filipino, Haitian, Hispanic and Korean. But African American churches are not represented in that number because none were planted. Interestingly, that gap is in an area where African Americans comprise 30 percent of the population in Maryland and 21 percent in Delaware. Looking closer, in Baltimore the numbers are 64 percent and in Wilmington it’s 56 percent.
In response to that need, leaders of the African American Church Development Team, Embrace Baltimore and BCM/D have developed the “Antioch Institute.” Under the leadership of James Dixon, Jr., who serves as director and Steve Hardnett, assistant director, this new initiative has been specifically designed to train African American leaders to be prepared to go out as teams, to evangelize, start Bible studies and begin new self-supporting works.
Twenty-eight students began classes in January. They meet from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month at Parkville Church. Students come from all walks of life and backgrounds and include associate pastors, deacons and lay leaders. Some are college graduates; others are not.
Dixon said pastors who have never attended Bible College would benefit from the classes. Topics include evangelism, discipleship, pastoral ministry, biblical studies, founding new churches, spiritual character building, finances, evangelism and discipling.
Darryl Fitch and Isaac Sterling are both members of El Bethel Church, Fort Washington, and students of Antioch Institute. Fitch is an associate minister at El Bethel and a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate student working on a master of divinity degree in counseling. The information he’s learning, he says, is valuable for anyone who wants to better serve in kingdom work.
“Every church needs to have people skilled in evangelism, teaching, working in VBS and other church ministries. All this information is helpful in every aspect of church life,” he said.
Isaac Sterling serves as discipleship ministry leader and minister of education. He too believes the institute is well-rounded and helpful to lay leaders and pastors. He’s also impressed with the instructors.
“This is something that can be used to better understand our churches, how to start them, how they function and how to keep them going,” Sterling said. He also appreciates that the instructors are respected men who have strong ministry experience and share their own backgrounds and the word of God to teach students about real church life.
Graduates of the 18-month program will receive certificates and be commissioned, ready to further their ministries, go into their communities and to be prepared to serve on church planting teams as they are called and as opportunities arise.
Dixon said advanced classes will be added to the institute as time goes on so those who complete the basics can continue to grow.
Antioch instructors for this term include: Robert Anderson, Mel Pride, Randy Millwood, Reynold Carr, Stephen Hardnett, Byron Day, Ken Fentress, Robert Smith Jr. and Kenneth Weathersby.
The initiative is catching the eye of the North American Mission Board, which is using the program as a pilot, watching it closely to possibly duplicate it nationally.
“I feel that this is a great opportunity not just for African Americans, but for all ethnic communities,” Dixon said. “With the team concept, we will be able to reach more people for the kingdom of God. I think this approach provides us a greater opportunity to do a better job in the African American communities. It is my prayer that the Lord will bless our effort and help us to accomplish His purpose through this process.”
BCM/D Executive Director David Lee said that the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware has always been known as a convention of innovators.
“There are many reasons for that,” Lee explained. ”One clear reason is the challenge of our mission field in the very shadow of our nation’s capital. The other is the quality and spiritual commitment of those whom God has called to serve this strategic region.
“The Antioch Institute fits the category of innovation. The North American Mission Board is watching this model’s progression as a possible means for expanding African American church planting across the nation. I commend James Dixon, David Jackson, and the other leaders who have been the architect of this impacting ministry,” Lee said.