Editor’s note: This month, we’ll share stories by and about believers and churches in the Blue Ridge Baptist Association (BRBA). Our first is a Q&A with BRBA Director of Missions (DOM) Bruce Conley.
Please share a bit about yourself and your family.
I have four children and two grandchildren who live in West Virginia and Maryland. I’m also glad to share my home with one of my daughters these days and with Lola, our golden Labrador retriever. My wife passed away last year after a 15-month battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was awful to watch her slowly waste away, but I know she is in heaven with Jesus now.
Tell us about your spiritual journey.
In the 1970s, a neighborhood friend invited me to attend the local Baptist church in Beltsville. I started on Wednesday nights with Royal Ambassadors and soon was a part of the youth group. For years I was the “cut-up” kid on the back pew, getting the “evil eye” from a deacon’s wife. I was there for fun – but God had a plan to get the gospel to me. At 16, a local youth evangelist named Wade Akins brought a musical group to our church. He made the message of the Bible real to me – and the Holy Spirit flooded my heart, so I gave my life to Christ that night on the church lawn. My pastor put me to work immediately and had me lead “Singspiration” (the random singing of hymns) on Sunday nights since I had some musical talent. From that time on, it has been one exciting experience after another as I do my best to follow Jesus.
Each association has its own culture – how would you describe yours?
We’ve been around since 1954, and we’ve always been innovative. By 2000, David Burt, the former BRBA DOM, embarked on a plan to include some churches in the neighboring West Virginia panhandle in our association. Their state convention offices were five hours away in Charleston, but the pastors found that they could reach training sessions in Columbia in 90 minutes. State lines seemed to be a barrier to local cooperation and shared ministry. So we expanded our reach from Frederick and Washington counties in Maryland into three counties in West Virginia and nearby counties in Pennsylvania. During that time, we also helped to start a few new churches with funding assistance from the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
In the mid-2000s, The Great Commission Resurgence Movement resulted in funding changes for associations. We began to think “outside of the box” again. In my work, I would encounter other evangelical churches in our region that typically didn’t come from a Southern Baptist background, but when we compared their statements of faith to the Baptist Faith and Message and their operational procedures to standard SBC church life, there were VERY few differences. As the new DOM at that time, I put into motion a plan whereby those churches could become a part of what we were already doing well. It has been a very positive thing for our association. They have the same needs as our churches, and they see great advantages to being a part of a cluster of churches that help each other locally, nationally, and internationally. It’s a blessing to see ALL of these churches working together for the gospel.
How has God been blessing your association?
Oh my … let me count the ways! God has been SO good to us. Last October, we highlighted several churches that have seen mighty movements of God in the last few years. One small church, West End Baptist Chapel in Hagerstown, made a ridiculously low bid on an old school building in Hagerstown, and the county said “yes” to the purchase. Since that huge blessing, people have been getting saved left and right!
We invested a lot of effort, resources, and time in a small church that had been in decline for many years in Myersville. The restart began, and we watched God move in some fantastic ways. Now called North Valley Church, the congregation is healthy and growing. This restart saw more growth in a year than many other churches in that county. I could go on for hours about how God has blessed us, but I doubt you have enough “ink” to print it all.
I often say that from my chair (perspective), I get the honor of seeing 36-plus churches at their worst (under hardship) but also at their best. I share in their joys and their sorrows. I act as a helper, a resource person, an advisor. It really is an honor to assist churches, pastors, and other leaders as they follow God’s unique calling for them and their places of worship and discipleship.
What are some challenges?
Well, it goes without saying that COVID-19 has been a HUGE challenge for all churches, but we see God leading us all in ways that we would NEVER have sought after on our own without a pandemic. Because of coronavirus, now every church can have a larger footprint to share the gospel and disciple others. I hardly know a church in 2022 that cannot live-stream its services and sermons and use the internet to carry on meetings and Bible studies. God has done extraordinary things – but that’s His specialty, though, isn’t it? He takes bad situations and turns them around for good.
Of course, financial support is always a challenge with any ministry or mission. But it always seems that God provides enough for us to do exactly what He has called us to do within each and every budget year. His provision is amazing.
How can we pray for you and the association?
I hesitate to ask for prayers for myself. I always put others’ needs ahead of my own. I have been told that this is a fault of mine.
I would like to ask that every reader prays for our pastors. Ministry is hard. I’ve been a pastor, an associate pastor, a church planter, and a missionary – and one thing I can tell you for certain is that pastors get discouraged and need our encouragement and prayer support … constantly – without ceasing! That is probably the biggest challenge.
And, I guess, for me – pray that I don’t get bogged down. Many know that I have had a rough couple of years recently. When I was dying of liver failure, God saved me in the nick of time by providing me with a liver transplant with the shortest wait time in transplant history in the Washington, D.C. area. The recovery from that has been difficult. Then my wife got ALS and died. Satan knows how to discourage me, and he is an expert at it.
Likewise, please pray for a continued spirit of unity and purpose within our association. We’ve had a really good 14 year run of that … but the evil one is always lurking around and trying to get a foothold to mess things up. Pray for that “hedge of protection” that we all need.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I love being used by God to make a difference in the world and in the lives of people. It’s been my calling since I was saved as a teenager. I was a volunteer in my association long before God called me to be a DOM. Baptist associations in America have faced many challenges through the years, but their work is vitally important to help local churches!! Do what you can to support associational missions in your region.
Cover photo: Conley is second from right (photo submitted).