By Shannon Baker, BCMD National Correspondent
COLUMBIA, Md. — In their tenure at the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, David Lee, BCM/D’s executive director, and his wife, Sherry, full-time volunteer missionary for ministers’ wives and families, have carried big dreams for Maryland/Delaware churches.
In addition to planting disciple-making churches, strengthening existing congregations and developing and supporting church leaders, the convention’s outgoing top leader says m
ore than anything else, he wanted “to be a part of a mighty movement of God in this region.”
“I wanted to enable Maryland/Delaware Baptists to connect hands and hearts to the mission field,” said Lee, who retired on July 31. “I want us to be a Great Commission people from the pulpit to the pew. The single greatest challenge before us is casting this vision to the generations that will follow us.”
Succeeding Charles Barnes as executive director of the multi-state convention in May 2000, Lee first served as director for the convention’s church growth and service division, director of strategic planning and BCM/D consultant for church growth strategies, minister support and preaching.
A former Mississippi pastor and director of ministries for the Jackson County (Miss.) Association, Lee came to Maryland to serve as pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Glen Burnie, from 1988-1994 before serving at the state convention.
Remembering the “distinct call from God” to move to the state convention, Lee saw his mission as assisting churches to do ministry in the twenty-first century.
He aimed for “those who lead and serve in Maryland/Delaware to feel that they have no more supportive networks of friends than they do here [at the BCM/D].”
“Working with people you respect and love and serving in an area so positioned to impact our world for Christ, where opportunities for doing impacting ministry abound—it just doesn’t get any better than that!” he said.
Here are just a few highlights of the legacy the Lees have left through the BCM/D:
Over 350 churches in all 11 Maryland/Delaware associations were planted during the years Lee served as executive director, shared David Jackson, team strategist for BCM/D’s church multiplication team. He noted at least 27 people groups were reached through church planting during this time.
In addition, over 25 percent of BCM/D churches have helped support, sponsor or parent a new church plant. Nationally, the SBC has less than 4 percent that are involved in church planting.
“Dr. Lee did the hardest thing possible for any leader to do: he changed the culture of our convention. He made it the desirable thing
for churches in BCM/D to plant new congregations. He did this by championing the cause of church planters and holding them up as heroes before the rest of the convention,” Jackson said.
In February 2001, Lee invited 25 influential leaders representing each geographical region and spanning the theological-political spectrum within the BCM/D to the Skycroft Conference Center for what he called an “Acts 15 Conference.”
Desiring to be proactive in keeping the Southern Baptist national controversy over the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) from negatively impacting the organization’s focus on its mission, Lee defined his goal for the meeting as one of seeking a blended solution where the organization’s mission maintained priority over any individual or group’s proprietary agenda.
Like the result in Acts 15, where early church leaders shared viewpoints in a God-honoring way, Lee hoped both sides would agree on the imperative of reaching the region’s five million people for Christ.
As hoped, the meeting concluded with a unanimous consensus known as the Skycroft Accord keeping the focus on doing Great Commission work in Maryland and Delaware.
“As each person genuinely opened up their hearts and shared their spiritual journeys, their hopes and hurts, and their authentic desire to see lost people reached for Christ, you could see the Holy Spirit literally tearing down the barriers that separated us,” said Larry Eubanks, pastor of First Baptist Church, Frederick.
“There was truly a desire to understand each other, and though we do not agree on everything, we do have agreement on the most important things. And where we disagree, we at least understand and accept one another. That is a work only God could do,” he added.
“I wasn’t around in the book of Acts, but this is one of those times that I experienced what the book of Acts was like,” said Bob Simpson, BCM/D’s associate director. “The Holy Spirit so moved.”
Ministry to ministers’ families
Having served alongside her husband in his various ministry roles over the years, Sherry sensed a real urgency from God to expand the ministry to ministers’ wives to every area of the convention.
She and her husband committed to being “partners and care-givers and friends and cheerleaders for the BCM/D ministers and their families,” and developed annual or biannual retreats for ministry families, ministry couples, and ministers’ wives.
Attendees to these popular retreats enjoyed lavish grace, insightful messages, and inspiring worship at highly subsidized costs.
Calling the family “the foundation, the cradle, the launching pad for all of life,” Sherry believes that healthy ministry families are crucial to healthy churches.
“I am so grateful for the blessing of being able to invest my total time and energy working beside David and ministering to the precious women serving God beside their husbands,” she said.
Embracing our cities
Beginning in 2003, Lee led churches in Maryland’s largest city to “Embrace Baltimore.” Wanting to witness “a movement of God in his lifetime,” Lee initiated meetings with Baltimore-area pastors and with the North American Mission Board to pray diligently for God to provide resources and training to impact the communities of the Greater Baltimore area.
In November 2005, the North American Mission Board invited the Baltimore Baptist Association pastors to become a designated “Strategic Focus City,” a partnership
to focus national resources in local community service, church evangelism and church planting efforts in the Baltimore area.
The effort lasted officially for five years but unofficially is still continuing through ongoing church partnerships and initiatives.
The impact was significant: 14 new churches started; over 9,000 volunteers were mobilized for evangelism from 25 states, representing 16
2 entities; and churches held 410 evangelistic events, 66 Vacation Bible Schools and 99 sports camps. Over 2,030 individuals made professions of faith.
As Embrace Baltimore began winding down, the Delaware Baptist Association began reaching residents in Newcastle County, Delaware, through phase two, labeled Embrace Wilmington. And presently, in phase three, the Montgomery Baptist Association seeks to reach people who live and work in Silver Spring, Md., through Embrace Silver Spring.
Like the other city-reaching effort, Embrace Wilmington and Embrace Silver Spring seek to combine cooperative efforts from churches throughout the county, state and nation to impact the area with the life-saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
New Day in Race Relations
In early 2010, Lee began sensing there was opportunity to break down barriers between races, especially between blacks and whites.
“The idea actually arose amidst a discussion in a pastors’ network we host. One of the members suggested that we approach the subject of racial reconciliation, especially in light of the issues that have been in the news,” he explained.
Right away, he and James Dixon, BCM/D missionary for African-American church development, planned a retreat, inviting key pastors from both Anglo and African American churches, in equal numbers, to come together and discuss the issue.
Out of the meetings came a proposed mission statement, which reads:
“Our mission together is to create a new day of spiritual unity and cultural understanding between blacks and whites through the shared Christian values of respect, trust, and love; modeling these values individually and corporately by overcoming ignorance and fear, by confronting issues of poverty and power, and by recognizing, engaging and celebrating our difference.”
Dixon noted, “I really think that we, as a convention, set a powerful example for our two states and the world that we are very serious in going forward to have a new day in race relations. Somebody needs to be a pioneer in this area.”
In a celebration at First Rock Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., Lee pointed to the fulfillment of a Christian’s mission in Acts 1:8, to be Christ’s witnesses, even in the hard places. “There may be some difficult journeys for some of us to go there, but we must go there anyway,” he said. Pointing to Jesus’ prayer in John 17, Lee looked to Jesus’ vision for His disciples to be “one.”
“I know we are not there yet, but we want to journey there; that’s where we want to go,” he said.
Great Commission Resurgence
In early 2010, Lee was in Nashville when the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force delivered their progress report to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
At the heart of the effort was a heightened focus on the Great Commission and on cooperative giving, but many state conventions were concerned about potential changes in the structures of the SBC’s two mission boards and how it would affect local mission efforts.
“It has been the cooperative efforts between state conventions and NAMB that have produced much of the missions advance throughout the United States and Canada, especially in the large pockets of lostness such as ours,” Lee said, noting that for Maryland/Delaware, the approval of this report would potentially mean removing one million dollars a year from the BCM/D’s operating budget.
“Much of that resource helps pay the salaries and benefits of 12 of our jointly appointed state missionaries and will reduce funding and benefits for all our associational directors of missions in Maryland and Delaware,” Lee said.
True to his nature, Lee sought to listen and provide quiet counsel throughout the process, thereby hoping to help shape the new strategy of the North American Mission Board, now led by president Kevin Ezell.
At the same time, the BCM/D’s General Mission Board committed to increase the missions giving percentage, commensurate with churches’ increased cooperative giving. Thankfully, fueled by the enormous lostness in this region, the NAMB partnership remained a vital part of the work God is doing in the Northeast.
“We are better off today than we were before the Great Commission Resurgence,” observed Simpson.
The Lees have never sought to bring attention to themselves. Their style has always been to point all successes and results of ministry “to the glory of God.” But is always appropriate to follow the Apostle Paul’s lead (from Dr. Lee’s favorite book in the Bible) in Philippians 1:3, “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.”
Maryland/Delaware Baptists will be doing this for many, many years to come.