By Sharon Mager, BaptistLIFE Correspondent
OCEAN CITY, Md.—Close to 500 messengers and guests representing 165 churches met at the Clarion Fontainebleau Resort in Ocean City Nov. 8 to 10 for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network’s 180th celebration. In the midst of a year of transition, the theme of the event was “Loving Our Neighbors,” and the emphasis throughout was being one in Christ, united together, and reaching out to share the Gospel to a lost and dying world.
On behalf of the Network, Master of Ceremonies and Network Catalyst Reid Sterrett welcomed messengers. Niel Augustine, ASL interpreter and minister of youth and young adults at Paramount Baptist Church, Hagertown, Md., tirelessly and with passion, provided interpretation for the deaf community throughout the three-day celebration through announcements, sermons, prayer, and during the music and worship.
Sterrett officially announced the recent transition of Network interim leadership. Rick Hancock, who recently became the director of missions for the Mid-Maryland Baptist Association is serving as the interim Network executive director as Tom Stolle is stepping down from the role. Stolle was serving as both the Network executive director and as chief financial officer following Will McRaney’s sudden resignation in June.
Network President Bill Warren told messengers, “I can think of no better way to call this meeting to order than through prayer.” Warren led a time of “worship-based” prayer, using Jesus’ priestly prayer in John 17, “that all may be one.”
“We are humbled and touched that we were on Your mind on the night before You died,” Warren prayed. “You prayed that we would be one even as You and the Father are one. That’s impossible for us, Lord God… for You and the Father are one in a that way we can’t even imagine, and we can’t achieve, but You prayed for it, You asked for it, therefore it must be possible for You.
“So we ask, Lord Jesus, that You would make us one as you and the Father are one. It has been a difficult year… I pray that You will help us to love one another, to see Christ in one another, to forgive where forgiveness is needed, to confess where confession is needed, to humble ourselves together before You so that we may be one so the world will know You were sent by Your Father….bring us together as one for Your glory….”
Jose Nater, chairman of the order of business committee, and pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Cambridge, welcomed messengers and guests. “We pray that God will use this time to equip us as we continue to serve during the difficult times facing our society,” he said.
Sean Davis, pastor of Ocean City Baptist Church, welcomed guests. Davis said the world has come to Ocean City, referring to international college students who arrive each summer to work in the various beach businesses. Davis said the church, in partnership with Central Atlantic Leisure Ministries and many churches throughout the Eastern Baptist Association, has had the opportunity to minister to students from 45 countries this year. “We have the world come to us every summer,” Davis said.
Bill Archer, minister of music at Redland Baptist Church (RBC), led a huge praise team from RBC singing a mixture of music, old and new. The team included a choir, praise band and orchestra. Archer said the praise team represents eight decades of life, from teens to those in their 80’s.
Plenary guest speaker Steve Davis said, “After that great music, I feel like a guy calling a business meeting after the rapture!” Davis is regional vice president, East Region of the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
Davis introduced NAMB’s new logo and message—to equip “every person in the pew to take the next step in missional engagement.” Davis said NAMB’s new “SEND Network” and “SEND Relief” will open up more avenues for Southern Baptists to be more engaged in ministry throughout North America. “We want to help you make that next missional step,” he said.
Referring to the celebration’s theme, “Loving Our Neighbors,” Davis said, “If we don’t start there, we’re not going to reach North America with the Gospel.”
He explained one of NAMB’s core values, “Whatever it takes.” “We’re committed to that. We want to do whatever it takes to penetrate ‘lost-ness, and conserve the harvest by planting churches,” he said.
Following a video highlighting several Mid-Atlantic area directors of missions, Reid Sterrett said every Monday pastors are going through “holy hangovers,” often feeling discouraged, lonely and insecure. Sterrett praised directors of missions for their “local touches.” Sterrett also said the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network is covering pastors in prayer. “We believe that praying for our pastors is one of the most important things we can do.”
Dennis Kim, pastor of Global Mission Church, Silver Spring, Md., and second speaker for the evening, said, “I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit among us tonight.” Speaking to the meeting’s theme, Kim said the Old Testament Patriarch Joseph was an “outstanding example” of loving our neighbors, especially when neighbors are unloving.
Kim said Joseph could love because he relied on God who was always with him; he was faithful to God in small tasks and God’s grace made Joseph’s dreams come true. Joseph endured the hardships and setbacks in order to fulfill his God-given dreams.
“We must be faithful carrying out our God-given mission. We must be faithful in loving our neighbors,” he said.
Kim prayed, “Dear God, we thank You so very much for Joseph and for people like Joseph who love their neighbors and sacrifice themselves to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. So let us continue the great commission by loving our neighbors.”
Network Second-Vice-President Randall Blackmon closed the first session with prayer. Blackmon prayed, “…Help us be empowered by the Holy Spirit to move from the pew to our communities…stir us up…You sent Jesus, You send us on a mission…make us one around the Gospel, restore and refresh us.”
Network President Bill Warren led an hour of prayer early Monday morning. Based on Psalm 18, “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer…in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold…”
Former BCM/D Presidents Rick Hancock, Jim McBride, Byron Day and Tim Simpson led a time of prayer. In addition to group prayers, there was opportunity for individual private confession and a time of praying and laying hands on Tom Stolle and Rick Hancock, thanking God for Stolle’s leadership and praying for him and his family and their continued strength in his Network ministry and for Hancock as he takes the role of the Network’s interim executive director. Jud Kossum, music minister, Allen Memorial Baptist Church, Salisbury, led soft worshipful music between the prayers.
Throughout the morning, there were multiple Network-sponsored equipping and networking brunches available for pastors, ministry wives, children and music ministers, church planters and lay leaders.
Afternoon breakout opportunities included sessions about ministry to Muslims, churches ministering to families with special needs, same sex marriage and how it impacts the church, the church and immigration, and a candid racial reconciliation panel discussion.
Several affinity dinners were held for seminary alumni, church planters, language pastors, and leaders interested in continuing ministry after the riots in Baltimore.
During the Monday evening session of the celebration, Cornerstone Church of Dover, Del., led worship.
Steve McAdams from Maryland’s Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives expressed gratitude from the Governor regarding community efforts made by the Network in Baltimore after the spring riots. He urged church leaders to become partners with the local government, which has access to several resources.
Messengers re-elected Bill Warren, pastor of Allen Memorial Baptist Church, Salisbury, as Network president. Curtis Hill, pastor of Ogletown Baptist Church, Newark, Del., was elected first vice-president; and Keith Myer, pastor of Harvest Baptist Church, Salisbury, as second vice-president. David Gaines, pastor of Manna Bible Baptist Church, Baltimore, was re-elected as recording secretary and his wife, Tracey, will serve as assistant recording secretary.
Victor Kirk, pastor of Sharon Bible Fellowship Church, Lanham, chairperson of the executive director search committee, presented an update on the search. Kirk said the application process closed on Oct. 15. There are seven official candidates for the position. “We are in the process of interviewing, researching and vetting [the candidates],” Kirk said.
Messengers approved a $7.9 million budget, which includes Cooperative Program (CP) receipts of $3.875 million. The budget includes increased church planting funds as a result of a new strategic partnership with NAMB.
General Mission Board (GMB) President Mark Dooley said the budget covers some “extremely exciting” new initiatives supported by the State Missions Offering and additional budgeted funds. These new initiatives include church revitalization and new strategically-targeted African American, Jewish, and Muslim church planting as well as planting churches for families with special needs.
Dooley said Network budgeted funding comes through many different sources, but the “lion’s share” of funding is from the gifts churches provide through CP giving.
He highlighted that the 2016 spending plan includes a one percent increase in the convention’s CP giving, explaining that in 2015, 41.5 percent of CP receipts were forwarded to the Southern Baptist Convention to support national and international ministries rather than being kept “home.” Though CP receipts have not been increasing, the GMB recommended taking a step of faith to increase the CP giving to 42.5 percent with an eventual goal of reaching a 51-49 percent split, sending more than keeping.
Dooley said, “To do that requires all of our churches to make a commitment to CP as our primary funding mechanism. While increasing our one percent won’t keep missionaries on the field, it’s a step in the right direction.”
Messengers and guests gave $2,165.01 to the annual offering, which was designated this year for ministry to international students in Ocean City.
Special Guest, Christopher Duffley
Tom Stolle introduced special guests Christopher Duffley and his mother, Christine. Christopher, a blind and autistic 14 year old, was born at 26 weeks, one-pound, 12 ounces and placed in foster care. His then aunt, now his mother, visited him as a baby when Christopher had double pneumonia. She and her husband, Stephen, prayed, brought Christopher home and eventually adopted him as their son.
“It really all started with a prayer in the morning, ‘Lord, I surrender all to you,’ and this was before God placed Christopher on my heart,” Christine said.
He flourished in the love he found in his new home, but as he grew he struggled to communicate.
But he could sing. Duffley said his parents played the “Shout to the Lord” praise album “constantly,” but they especially encouraged him to sing “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”
“They wanted me to know that God loved me and He lived in my heart and that I could see Him through my heart,” Christopher said before he sang the song.
Monday Night Message
Michael Crawford, in his Monday evening message, focusing on “Whatever It Takes,” said, “We stand on the edge of unprecedented opportunity. Never in the history of this convention have we had so many opportunities to do so much” with what God has given us.
“’Whatever it takes’ is a mentality…an attitude…a commitment to accomplish the mission no matter the cost,” he told messengers and guests.
Crawford passionately shared his excitement about God’s movement in church revitalization, collegiate ministry, and a new outreach opportunity for partner churches to pray for congressmen and senators.
He also expressed excitement for the Network’s new initiatives in the area of African American church planting, and planting and equipping churches to reach Jewish people and Muslims, as well as families with disabilities.
“Our future is incredible,” Crawford said.
Tom Stolle closed the Monday evening session with prayer.
The final day of the Annual Celebration brought a time of worship, commitment, laughter and prayer. A majority of messengers and guests stayed for the final session.
Jud Kossum led worship before Bill Warren shared the annual President’s address.
“What are you afraid of? What makes you worry?” Warren asked, noting the typical top ten fears people have, including public speaking, heights, spiders….and darkness.
“These are dark times for some of you and you are afraid it will not get any better.
“God never leaves His people on a cross. There is always a resurrection,” Warren said.
Tom Stolle recognized new pastors and staff members, and thanked Executive Office Coordinator Donna Jefferys for her management of the celebration’s logistics. He also recognized directors of missions and called them on stage one by one.
Bruce Conley, Blue Ridge Association director of missions and president of the Baptist Foundation of Maryland/Delaware, presented the Foundation’s report. Conley reported that through the Foundation’s loan program, 18 Network churches are being assisted with over $2.5 million in loans. The interest is used to start and strengthen churches. Conley, on behalf of the Foundation, presented Bill Warren, on behalf of the Network, a check for $123,779.225.
Barbara Matney, the Network’s Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) president reported for both the WMU and for Melody Knox, specialist of church strengthening: women and WMU.
Matney said the WMU emphasizes being a missionary wherever you are at this time in this place. “Let’s do whatever it takes, no matter what it means to empower limitless missionary teams to reach unreached people for the glory of God,” she said. Matney encouraged churches to welcome with “open arms” the International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries returning from the field after IMB’s recent downsizing (due to lack of funding).
Ed Litton, pastor of First Baptist Church, North Mobile, Ala., (now known as Redemption Church) presented the final sermon.
Litton began his presentation following a video about church revitalization.
“Southern Baptists have a mindset that death is an event. It is a process,” Litton said, referring to the video, in which Randy Millwood stood in what looked like a church with stained glass windows. In reality, it was a coffee shop that used to be a church.
“Churches becoming beauty shops, coffee shops and bars…I say God forbid!” Litton said emphatically.
Litton said Christians live in a day of pluralism and secularism. “How shall we now live? Do we embrace the culture or withdraw?”
Litton said God calls us to fearlessly love the city where he has placed us because God loves the city where we live.
Drew Worsham, a Christian illusionist and mentalist from Drew Worsham Ministries, brought a refreshing time of laughter and amazement as he “guessed” words people picked out of imaginary books and cards from a card deck. Worsham, also a full-time campus pastor at Resonate Church in Pullman, Wash., uses his illusionist ministry as an opportunity to share the Gospel and encourage others in ministry.
“I’m not a guy who doesn’t understand the ‘trenches,’” he said. “I love and have a heartbeat for missions and church planting.” Worsham encouraged listeners to lead their lost culture by loving their neighbors. A lot of the time, it starts with a conversation, he said.
Bill Warren closed the celebration in prayer, “We leave today as one. Keep us that way for Your glory.”