By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
TOWSON, Md.—Three hundred forty three messengers and 70 guests gathered on a clear, autumn leaf crunchy weekend for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s 174th annual meeting, Nov. 8-10 at the Sheraton, Towson. This year’s theme was “Connect…A conference celebrating the Great Commission.” Keynote speakers focused on connecting to God, to one another, to each other, to the community and to the world. The yearly “family reunion” was shortened and revamped this year, focusing on truly “connecting” through break-out conference sessions, a workshop, special brunches and dinners and fellowship breakfasts and even a Baltimore mission tour where participants climbed to the roof of a Baltimore row home and prayed over the city.
In the business session, messengers re-elected Byron Day as BCM/D president. They approved BCM/D and Skycroft budgets, adopted a bylaws change regarding the convention attorney and passed resolutions, one of which dealt with the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to hate crimes legislation, recognizing God’s design for sexuality, deploring violence and hate, upholding inclusive language that would protect the freedom to speak the truth of the Bible and resolving to continue to preach that truth.
BCM/D President Byron Day welcomed guests, officially calling the meeting to order. Gospel and contemporary music artist Dee Jones led praise and worship along with the BCM/D Gospel choir, under the leadership of Debbie Kempson, music director at First Church, Waldorf.
Keynote speaker Ron Sylvia, founding and lead pastor of The Church at The Springs, Ocala, Fla., told messengers church planting is an “extreme sport.” Jesus sent his disciples out in the storm; He sent them as sheep among wolves. They died for their faith.
“God is good, but he’s not safe,” Sylva said.
Sylvia shared his own experiences, including the death of his mother and two battles with an inoperatable benign brain tumor, requiring numerous sessions of radiation. But the lowest points in our lives are the mountaintop experiences of growth with God. It’s during the valleys that we truly grow and have the best times with God, he said.
Charles Roesel, presidential ambassador for the North American Mission Board, discussed how to pray like Jesus, and referred to the Lord’s Prayer found in Matt. 6.
“You can’t pray the first word unless the love of God is in your heart,” Roesel said.
He asked how Christians would really live if they truly believed Jesus’ return was imminent. When’s the last time you tried to win someone to the Lord, he asked, and when is the last time you tried?
Not trying to share the Gospel is “spiritual rebellion, high treason, spiritual disobedience and not in the will of God,” he said.
Christian illusionist & extreme balloon man, Steve Gambrill, kicked off the Monday morning session. Gambrill made a balloon model of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and told how Adam and Eve sinned and were kicked out of heaven for sinning. He then popped the tree and showed a balloon cross with Jesus on it and told how Jesus paid the price for our sin. He held up a dollar bill, asked about its value and tore it apart, saying it was now worth nothing, then blew on the bill and it “magically” was restored. Jesus can do that in our lives, Gambrill explained. He drew a sad face on a slate. When the face, named “Art,” heard about Jesus, Gambrill erased the frown and made it a smiley face. Then “Art” came to life and began “talking.” As a finale, Gambrill built a balloon space suit and outfitted a volunteer with the suit to show that we must be ready to go out, find God’s purpose in our lives and share the good news.
Byron Day shared greetings from other conventions. Joel Gilbert, worship leader at First Church, Rockville, led the music.
Keynote speaker, Gary Hollingsworth, senior pastor of Immanuel Church, Little Rock, Ark., spoke about connecting with culture.
He told the story of Jesus telling His disciples, who were fishing but not catching any fish, to throw their nets on the other side where they hauled in the catch of a lifetime.
“How do we connect with the fish in the culture we live in?” asked Hollingsworth. Slight adjustments have the potential for giving us huge results, he said.
“Jesus wants us to have a great harvest,” Hollingsworth said.
Depending only on structures and strategies will produce the same results. It’s only through the Spirit of God that we can have the success God wants.
“They knew about fishing. Jesus knew the fish,” Hollingsworth stated.
Following Hollingsworth’s discussion, meeting attendees could choose between three brunches—ministers, ministers’ wives and lay leaders. Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Church, in New Orleans, and Gary Hollingsworth were the special speakers for the ministers’ brunch and afterwards fielded questions together. Kim Hardy, author, worship leader and speaker, was the guest at the ministers’ wives brunch and David Lee, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, was the speaker for the lay leaders’ brunch.
International music artists, Keith and Kristyn Getty, led worship. The Gettys, both from Ireland, shared old familiar favorite music and their own songs, including, “In Christ Alone” and “Oh Church Arise,” both of which had messengers on their feet, singing loudly and passionately and raising hands and praising God. Kristyn’s crystal clear soprano voice was backed by piano and violin, which added depth to the music. Between songs, the group intermingled scripture, read by Kristyn with a strong Irish accent.
The Gettys write contemporary hymns, designed to bring traditional and contemporary music together. Their goal is to write songs that tell a story and that a child and a senior would enjoy singing. The couple also led a two-part music and worship workshop during the meeting.
Keynote speaker, Fred Luter, Jr., spoke on Acts 1:8. Luter said the early church was made up of plain ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things. How? Because they were empowered by the Holy Spirit, he said.
“They were able to do what they could not do of themselves by themselves,” he said.
“They were so effective that they turned the world upside down!” Luter shouted.
If we are obedient and wait on God, He will empower us to do what we cannot do by ourselves, Luter told messengers.
Following Luter’s message, there were several break-out opportunties offered including sessions on helping hurting people; ministries that impact; stewardship history from the artifacts themselves; building an evangelism strategy; discipling believers, impacting our changing culture and leading worship. There was also a “touching missions” first hand tour,” which offered messengers and guests the opportunity to see ministry sites and opportunities in Baltimore.
Fellowship dinners were offered for partnership missions, African American pastors and wives and language pastors and wives.
The Gettys led messengers in praise and worship, even teaching some hand motions to some of the songs.
During a brief business session, messengers unanimously re-elected Byron Day, pastor of Emmanuel Church, Laurel, as BCM/D president.
Afterwards, messengers gave an offering of $1418.77 to Embrace Wilmington, a new partnership initiative to reach Wilmington, Del., with the Gospel of Jesus.
Byron Day and David Lee were the evening’s keynote speakers.
Day referred to Mark 5, where Jarius pleads for Jesus to heal his daughter. While on his way to Jarius’ home, a sick woman touches Jesus and is healed.
We must, like Jesus, take time to connect to people, one life at a time. Millions of people are waiting for a connection, Day said. “Jesus wants to resurrect lives, marriages, families, drug addicts, alcoholics….
“We’re the connection point,” Day said.
BCM/D executive director, David Lee, spoke of disconnect. Sometimes things don’t work, Lee said. We do everything we can to fix it only to find the real problem is that it’s not connected.
Things aren’t working as well as they should be. Could ours be a problem of disconnect? Lee asked.
Lee challenged messengers to set a priority focus on getting reconnected in 2010—reconnected to God, ministers connecting with ministers and churches connecting with churches. One of his dreams, he said, is to see every church be connected in partnership with another BCM/D church, praying for each other, fellowshipping, ministering together.
It’s synergetic, Lee said. We can do together what we can’t by ourselves.
“We dare not forget that you and I have been placed by God in the most strategic area in the world,” he said.
Following Lee’s sermon, Richard Logston, Montgomery Association director of missions, on behalf of all of the Maryland/Delaware directors of missions, presented Lee and his wife, Sherry, with a gift certificate to Ruth’s Chris Steak House, in honor of David Lee’s 15 years of service with the BCM/D.
“We respect and love you,” Logston said. “The best years of our convention are ahead.”
At the end of Monday’s session messengers and guests gathered for a fellowship reception with light refreshments.
Early morning fellowship breakfasts, including a New Orleans Seminary breakfast and a Hispanic breakfast, offered messengers more opportunities to “connect.”
The Gettys led worship for the morning program.
During the business session, messengers voted unanimously to elect Harold Phillips, pastor of Pleasant View Church, Port Deposit as first vice-president and Jim Burcham, pastor of Upper Marlboro Church for second vice-president.
Members also unanimously re-elected Gayle Clifton, pastor of Upper Seneca Church, for recording secretary and Bill George, pastor of Kensington Church, as assistant recording secretary.
They also approved the 2010 BCM/D budget of $6,269,035 and Skycroft Conference Center budget of $1,842,240. A question arose regarding $100,000 for strategic resources included in the 2010 BCM/D budget. David Lee explained that the pending sale of a portion of the Baptist Mission Resource Center will enable the Convention to invest the principle which has the potential to produce annual interest in the range of the $100,000 per year. This money will be used to start and strengthen churches, assist with missions and develop leaders. He recalled that the messengers had already approved entering into a contract for the sale of approximately 9,000 square feet to Straughan Environmental Services. This approval came at a special called meeting on Oct. 20. The vote to approve the sale was unanimous.
Members approved a bylaw change to Article IV section 2 and 6, removing the requirement for the BCM/D attorney from serving as an ex-officio member of the General Mission Board and of the Administrative Committee.
David Lee explained that Alan Stocksdale, BCM/D’s longtime lawyer, is stepping down. The new attorney, Jeff Agnor with the firm of Davis, Agnor, Rappaport, and Skalny, LLC, located in Columbia, Md., has expressed that he would feel better not being a voting member of the board and that it could avoid a conflict of interest situation.
Scott Preissler, professor of stewardship at Southwestern Seminary, described himself as a “whole life stewardship person.”
The world is overheating, Preissler said. We can go faster, but have more places to go; we have more room, but more junk to put in it; we have more time, and more choices; we work more and sleep less; we have more and give less. In fact, Preissler said, people gave more during the Great Depression than they give now.
“We’ve lost a sense of the eternal. We live preoccupied with our rights, not our responsibilities,” he said.
“This is our stimulus package,” Preissler declared, holding up his Bible.
We must serve God people faithfully, despite circumstances, Preissler said.
Lee and his wife, Sherry, greeted new ministers in the convention as they came forward to introduce themselves.
Lee recognized BCM/D staffers Roy Thomas and Linda Waggoner. Thomas has served the BCM/D for 20 years and currently is the Baptist Mission Resource Center Coordinator. Linda Waggoner has served as a ministry assistant for ten years and currently assists in the areas of African American church development and planting, ministers’ wives and womens’ ministry.
Lee also presented a plaque to Raymond Moreland, executive director of the Maryland Bible Society, to commemorate the society’s 200th birthday. The society is a good partner to the BCM/D, Lee said.
“Thanks for sharing God’s Word for 200 years,” Lee said.
Lee then recognized Alan Stocksdale who served for 46 years as the convention’s attorney. Stocksdale’s family was in attendance.
“There’s not going to be another Alan Stocksdale. He has loved the convention and served faithfully,” Lee said.
Stocksdale not only interpreted the law, but did so with the understanding of a Baptist and with the heart of Christ.
“Maryland Delaware Baptists love you. You are a Christian statesman,” Lee said. Messengers gave Stocksdale a standing ovation.
“Thank you for everything. I have enjoyed serving and God be with you,” Stocksdale said.
Messengers passed several resolutions including thanking God for the opportunity to meet once again and to show appreciation to the BCM/D staff, to the Sheraton staff and to the people of Towson for their part in BCM/D being able to have the annual meeting in the Towson location.
Another resolution praised God for the Embrace Baltimore initiative and resolved to move from embracing Baltimore as an initiative to a passion; and a third resolution, in response to recent legislation adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to hate crime laws, resolved to recognize God’s design for sexuality, to deplore acts of violence and hatred – especially under the guise of Baptist, and to uphold the inclusion of language that would protect the freedom to speak the truth of the Bible, and to resolve to continue to preach the truth of the Gospel whether or not such language is included or not. (The complete resolutions can be found at www.bcmd.org.)
David Lee then led a prayer time over the new BCM/D officers petitioning God to give them wisdom and boldness.
“Most of all, endue them with the power of the Holy Spirit so that every time we see them lead, we see Jesus in them,” Lee prayed.
Debbie Kempson, music coordinator for the Connect meeting and the music/worship leader at First Church, Waldorf, led a hymn sing.
Larry Steen, senior pastor of Westminster Church, closed the meeting with the annual pastor’s sermon. Steen read from Romans 15.
“Paul had a missionary heart,” Steen said. “He was perhaps the greatest missionary of all time. Paul viewed his ministry as priestly…,” he said. Instead of seeing the dirt, filth and blood, he saw himself as a priest in a temple with holy garments. Instead of sacrifices of animals and incense, he offered the souls of Gentiles. Paul viewed what he did day by day as an act of worship, Steen explained.
“What we do for Jesus is an act of worship,” Steen said.
Setting tables for a meeting, ministering to a homebound saint – simple, everyday acts, but if you’re offering it up to God as an act of worship, whatever you do is God’s work, Steen said.
“We must never lose sight of who we’re doing this for and to whose glory it is to be credited.”
Byron Day closed the meeting with prayer. “Thank you for challenging us to go back into our little Jerusalem and keep at it. Encourage, keep and enable us to continue to be faithful to you…”