By Sharon Mager
SEVERN, Md.—Messengers to the 179th Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware annual meeting affirmed the organization’s new “doing business as” name, Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, as they celebrated God’s blessings Nov. 9-11 at The Church at Severn Run in Severn, Md.
Now known as the Annual Celebration, this meeting was promised to be like no other annual meeting in years’ past, and it was unique. In preparation, Network staff attempted to personally visit each of the 500-plus churches in the Network, hand-delivering a personalized brick and inviting each pastor to the Annual Celebration. Each brick was engraved with the church’s name. Pastors responded to the personal invitations. Four hundred eighteen messengers and 100 guess attended the Celebration. That is the highest attended Celebration in at least five years.
As pastors or church representatives arrived for the Celebration they placed their bricks on a “pathway” display, many posing for photos. The bricks symbolized the Network’s emphasis on building upon the shoulders of Christians who went before, the continuing building of God’s Kingdom along the path God is leading forward, and the need to continue to build for future generations. The bricks will be used build a pathway at the Network’s training center, Skycroft, in western Maryland.
“We owe a great debt to those who passed the gospel down to us,” said Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network Executive Missional Strategist Will McRaney. “Now, we must pass it down for others.”
“We don’t want to hand this off with no one standing there,” he said. “We are spending a lot of energy trying to re-communicate who we are: a group of followers working together toward the common cause to advance the Kingdom of God.”
To that end, messengers affirmed the use of the new Network name, understanding it better reflected the network of churches who cooperate together from states beyond Maryland and Delaware. In addition to the new name, leaders introduced a new logo with three rope stripe graphics, representing a cord of three strands, referring to Ecclesiastes 4:12, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Each stripe represents one of the organization’s key strategies: Equip, Encourage and Engage.
“We really are better together. The Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network wants to support local pastors. We don’t want any pastor to walk alone,” McRaney said.
McRaney also introduced an opportunity to support Network ministry through “Gofwd Mid-Atlantic,” a newly named extension of the annual State Missions Offering, which will now be available for churches who want to invest in local ministry all year round.
This funding stream, as well as this year’s Annual Celebration theme, “Gofwd, Loving Your Neighbors, Sharing Christ,” was taken from Annie Armstrong’s rally cry, “Go forward,” based on Exodus 14:15, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.’”
Throughout the Celebration, churches were encouraged to acknowledge the past and present and join arms to move boldly into the future. Business was brief and prayer time was expanded. There were segments of affirmation, celebrating the life of some of the Network’s oldest churches; pastors who have served 20 years or more; and recognition of church planters and Network staff. Messengers approved a $5,725,996 budget that includes a two percent increase in the amount of Cooperative Program funds reinvested into church strengthening and starting of Mid-Atlantic Network churches for greater Kingdom impact.
Messengers elected William Warren, senior pastor of Allen Memorial Baptist Church, Salisbury, as Network president; and re-elected Steve Hokuf, pastor of First Baptist Church, North East, as first vice-president, Randall Blackman, pastor of Faith Fellowship Church, Cambridge, as second vice-president, and David Gaines, Sr., pastor of Manna Bible Baptist Church, as recording secretary. An assistant recording secretary position is still open.
Outgoing President Robert Anderson, in his address, used wrestling as an analogy of the Christian walk.
“It’s interesting, this thing called wrestling. When they go into a match the winner is predetermined. When they go in to slam and beat up their opponent, they go in knowing the battle is already won. The victor is predetermined.”
In the Christian walk, and in the spiritual battle, the end is predetermined, Anderson said. “We can celebrate in the midst of the fight. We can have victory in Jesus!”
Fred Luter, senior pastor, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, and former Southern Baptist Convention president, used another sports analogy. Luter told messengers Christians are in a Super Bowl for their souls. “The football season leads to the most anticipated and watched game, the biggest battle of the year!
“After all the preparations, meetings, warfare, battle, brawl, out of these two only one will be left standing and rejoicing.
“From the hour you become a born again Christian, your life, ladies and gentlemen, is under constant attack,” Luter said, referring to spiritual warfare.
“Sometimes you have get on your knees, hands towards heaven…and pray, ‘It’s me, it’s me, standing in need of prayer.’”
Referencing 1 John 4:4, “…Greater is He that is in you that he who is in the world,” Luter concluded, “It’s an intense battle … it’s difficult … However, I’ve come all the way here from New Orleans to let you know, even though it’s intense, it’s a battle you can win.”
McRaney, in addressing “Why go forward?” said following Jesus is not overly complicated: love God and love people, depopulate hell and give people life.
McRaney explained modernity was a time of cultural construction. Postmodernity was a time of deconstruction.
“Let me tell you where we are. We are not constructing or deconstructing, we are reconstructing. God wants to do something new,” McRaney said. “There are a number of plateaued and declining churches. We want to see churches rebuilt so people can come to faith and be discipled… Everything is at stake for person with whom we share the gospel.”
Reid Sterrett, Network Catalyst and Eastern Baptist Association director of missions, who served at the master of ceremonies for the Celebration, noted, “God has done some phenomenal things in our Network over the last year.” He challenged messengers to commit to “Go forward” with the gospel and with the Network, pointing to covenant relationship commitment cards.
“My challenge is: Will you go to war and will you go to war with us? Because there is a battle raging for hearts of men and women across nation and you and I have an opportunity to make a commitment to say we’re going to make a difference.”
A multitude of pastors signed the cards, covenanting to intentionally share the adventure of strengthening and starting churches, investing in mission, loving neighbors and sharing Christ.
Harold Bullock, senior pastor of Hope Church, Fort Worth, Texas, told messengers he thanks God for the glory of the past, but that is nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed when Jesus returns.
“I live now, but not for now. It’s like seeing a wonderful cake, running your fingers through the icing, but that’s not the cake. I have eternal life, not just everlasting—I have a taste in my soul. I’ve got a long way to go, but I know it’s better than what I know. “
Christian comedian Dennis Swanberg, impersonating Billy Graham, Don Knotts, John Wayne, Bill Clinton and Mohammad Ali had the crowd laughing over jokes about his family and marriage. He laughed about eating cupcakes calling them “Christian Carbs.”
But most importantly, Swanberg spoke about planting shade trees — planning ahead, providing for future generations.
“Not everyone can be a legend, but can leave a legacy,” he said.
While the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network staff held their hands out in prayer for those around them, McRaney closed the Celebration with a commissioning, praying pastors, leaders and staff indeed “go forward” into all that God has for them.