By Sharon Mager
COLUMBIA, Md.—Acknowledging the past and boldly moving forward was the overall theme of the General Mission Board meeting (GMB) of the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network on Sept. 9 at the Baptist Network Center in Columbia. Will McRaney, executive missional strategist, reviewed the sweeping changes over the past twelve months and challenged members to partner with him to act courageously.
GMB President Mark Dooley, calling the meeting to order, told mission board members that God’s sovereignty is what gives him great confidence. “There are times that’s the only thing we can rely upon— that we serve a sovereign God. What God has determined will be,” Dooley said.
Executive Missional Strategist Report
“Universally, you asked me to lead courageously. That’s what I’m asking you to do—continue with me. Act courageously. The battle is the Lord’s and victory is ours. We can move with confidence. We’re on the winning team,” McRaney told GMB members.
“We live in a highly diverse mission field. The world is here, and this is who God has called us to reach. God has directed us to work together to advance His Kingdom,” he said.
McRaney reviewed the challenges and strengths of the past year and gave GMB members an overview of current successes and challenges. He also shared upcoming initiatives and strategies, and he encouraged them to boldly continue forward.
He also shared about staff additions, referring to David Hall, former pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church, who will serve as a special assistant to him; Keith Hammer, serving with the church strengthening team; Joel Rainey, team strategist, evangelism and missions; and Reid Sterrett, missional catalyst and network connector. (Read McRaney’s full report here.)
Administrative Committee Report
Administrative Committee Chairman Jim Jeffries will be rotating off of the board after this year’s Annual Celebration in November. Jeffries took the opportunity at the GMB meeting to share a word of testimony and encouragement.
“I’ve had a chance in recent days and weeks to step back and when I catch a glimpse of the bigger picture of what God is doing right here, I’m just so excited in my spirit! God has great people doing great things for a great God,” he said.
Referring to a sports testimony he recently heard, Jeffries said one player was inspired by a coach who said the word “team” means “together, everyone achieves more.”
“Thank you for helping me achieve more…. Even though I won’t be serving in the same roles, I still want to be working alongside you to glorify the name above all names.” (Read more of Jeffries’ testimony here.)
Associational Pilot Project Update
Missional Catalyst and Network Connector Reid Sterrett shared about the Network’s new associational pilot project, a potential merging of the Eastern Baptist Association in a unique relationship with the Network.
Many associations are in decline and struggling financially with no continued national support, Sterrett explained.
“Dr. McRaney has come along in a time of crisis and said, ‘Let’s fix this,’” Sterrett said, indicating a morphing into the Network would save money and provide greater collaboration with pastors and staff.
“This is a Baptist way… we’re trying to be proactive in developing a workable approach to meet the challenges and the opportunities instead of waiting and being reactive to crisis,” Dr. McRaney said.
Sterrett emphasized the project is a work in progress. At its next annual meeting in October, the Eastern Baptist Association will consider on whether and how to proceed with the merger.
Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network Director of Communications Shannon Baker gave an update on the network’s rebranding process. Baker referenced the special BaptistLIFE history edition distributed at the Southern Baptist Convention in June. The piece emphasized building on the legacies of Christians through the years.
“It’s so important to know where we’re going based on where we’ve been,” Baker said.
Baker quoted Roy Gresham, former executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention and editor of BaptistLIFE. “Those who went before us have bequeathed to us a heritage. We have an obligation to ourselves, to our contemporaries, and to those who will come after us…’
“The picture is that of a relay race. Those who have run faithfully in their part of the race now hand on to others the cause in which they have striven so well.”
Baker said, “We love the picture of passing the baton, but as we have been praying about rebranding, another image has risen to the surface. We’re thinking of the Ecclesiastes’ cord of three strands.” Referencing Ecclesiastes 4:12, she said, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
“I like to think of it as an ongoing strand, and it’s very strong. It takes all of us. Otherwise, we’d be too weak. We need each other. We need to be bound to one another,” Baker emphasized.
Baker prayed, “We want to thank you for all the history, for all the ways, God, through history you’ve used groups of people who have worked together, and they were strong when they were bound together. As we go forward and think of all the regions represented by the Mid-Atlantic Network, help us consider how we can equip, encourage and engage each other to do more.”
Chief Financial Steward Tom Stolle presented the Network’s financial report through July 31, 2014. Cooperative Program receipts of $2,434,318.54 are essentially even with last year and down about $45,000 from the year-to-date budget. “We’re just down a slight bit from the year-to-date budget but God is really blessing the work,” Stolle said.
Concerning funding received from the North American Mission Board, income trails the year-to-date budget. Stolle said that is in part due to the timing of recognition of income, which will occur later this year.
The only expense category above budget year-to-date are costs for the Baptist Network Center operations. Stolle said the savings recently achieved through renegotiated contracts for information technology services, our internet service provider, and copier lease will begin to positively impact our financials in the fall.
“You will begin to see the savings weave through,” Stolle said. With the savings, and the recognized NAMB receipts, Stolle said management anticipates, barring any unforeseen events, the Network should break even by year-end.
Regarding Skycroft Center Operations, Stolle said Skycroft is doing well, with operations expected to yield a breakeven result at year-end. Concerning $1.1 million received from the sale of a conservation easement to be used for improvements at Skycroft, $535,234.34 remains unexpended.
Keith Hammer, church strengthening missionary, told GMB members that the former “annual meeting” title is now “annual celebration.”
“It’s a name that embodies our emphasis—celebrating the past and preparing for the future,” Hammer said.
Hammer said the meeting is an opportunity to position the Network to go forward, unified as never before in a collaborative effort of partnership.
The Celebration will include a time of gratitude, a time of recognizing what churches have and are doing and honoring the legacy of anchor churches. There will be a time for prayer, to “break bread,” and the launching of peer/affinity groups.
In an effort to encourage pastors to attend the celebration, and bring their staff and members, network personnel will work to hand-deliver personalized bricks to each of the network’s 561 churches. Pastors are being encouraged to bring the bricks back to the Annual Celebration. They will eventually be used for a pathway at Skycroft Conference Center. The bricks are being used to show unity—we can do more together than individually. (Read more about the “Brick Tour” here.)
Reports from Strategy Teams
Randy Millwood, reporting for the formerly named “Church Wellness Team,” told GMB members that the name of the team is now “Church Strengthening Team: Equipping and Encouraging.” Millwood said the phrase “church strengthening” is a more accurate description of the team’s objective. Every church, regardless of where they are in their journey, can always be stronger, Millwood said. (Read Millwood’s full report here.)
“I don’t think there’s a more serious time to think about what it means to take the Gospel to the world, which now includes people who have come from the ends of the earth to our own back door,” Joel Rainey, team strategist for evangelism and missions reported for the Engagement Team for Evangelism and Missions.
“Think about the shift in culture in just the past five years. Do you feel like the ground is moving beneath your feet? I do. If you are tempted in the middle of uncertainty to fear, these are not days for the faint of heart. If that’s where you are, don’t be afraid. Jesus loves this world in which we find ourselves every bit as much as He loves the world that existed five years ago.
“You and I have a very clear choice in front of us. You can pine for the world as it once existed, or you can engage the world God has put at your doorstep. That’s it; there’s no third direction. The first is disobedience. The second is effective engagement in fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission. (Read Rainey’s full report here.)
Church Multiplication Strategist David Jackson, reporting for the Church Multiplication Team, said a new Thai church plant in Rockville is the 51st plant underway this year, and two additional starts before the year’s end would make 2014 a historic year in church multiplication.
“Someone once said the only constant in life is change, and that’s certainly the world of church planting and multiplication,” Jackson said. “Church planting is a dynamic process. Every year we are seeking to increase, to improve, to modify, and to adapt the process to help us be more effective in what we do to assist our church plants in their work.” (Read Jackson’s full report here.)
Committee and Agency Reports
Network Language Church Missionary Rolando Castro and Chief Financial Steward Tom Stolle reported together for the Affiliation Committee. They brought a recommendation to approve the church, Iglesia Mas Alla del Sol, located in Washington, DC. The church was planted by a Network church about five years ago, Castro said, but had not affiliated.
Asked about Cooperative Program support, Stolle read a letter from church leaders who said they want to affiliate for support and to be supported. They included their bylaws and constitution and two checks for the Cooperative Program.
“They are very missional people,” Castro said.
GMB members voted to approve the church.
Tom Stolle, reporting for the Baptist Foundation of Maryland/Delaware, said 16 churches are benefitting from secured loans form the Baptist Foundation. Earned income generated by the church loan fund is to be distributed on an annual basis back to the Network to start new churches and strengthen existing churches.
Concerning invested funds, Stolle said, “The market has been kind. Over the past twelve months we have had a 16.6 percent return. Over the most recent quarter, earnings were almost 3 percent.” The Foundation manages endowment funds for affiliated churches and associations. It also partners with the network to present planned giving estate seminars.
Jim Jeffries, introducing the budget discussion, opened in prayer, “Father, we know you own the cattle on a thousand hills. This is Your work; we want Your will to be done. We pray as we take these steps, to consider these things, Lord, grant us understanding and discernment. Lord, will You help, guide and lead us? We are asking for Your help. We can’t do anything without You.”
Will McRaney began a discussion regarding the budget with a personal donation from him and his wife Sandy toward Gofwd Mid-Atlantic, the state missions offering, leading by example as he shared about the importance of the fund as an additional revenue stream to strengthen the Network churches.
McRaney said that just as churches work to move people to full engagement, the Network wants churches fully engaged, partnering together to advance the Kingdom.
“We can do a lot more together,” McRaney stressed.
Network leaders have tried to propose a budget that multiplies the impact of “your churches, making them stronger,” he told GMB members.
As the Network celebrates a record-breaking year for church planting, McRaney stressed the plants must be supported.
“We don’t have children and walk away. We have to strengthen what we have. We have a responsibility to steward them and their families. If we do not do that well they will be disconnected from us,” McRaney said.
“Every dollar is a mission dollar. That’s how I look at the whole budget. The Great Commission is the church’s responsibility. The strength of it all depends on the strength of the churches. We can do some great things here. Our budget should reflect great stewardship,” he said.
General Mission Board members voted in favor of a $7,889,000 total budget, which includes Skycroft operations and will be presented to messengers at the Annual Celebration in November for final approval.
Chief Financial Steward Tom Stolle, reviewing the budget information, explained that the proposed budget incorporates a 2 percent increase in the amount of Cooperative Program receipts reinvested into church strengthening and multiplying Network churches. Although the amount leaving Maryland/Delaware is reduced to 43.5 percent to 41.5 percent, funds sent to the Southern Baptist Convention are still .5 percent higher than what existed prior to recent increases.
The original goal was to increase 1 percent per year until 2020, resulting in 49 percent being reinvested into church strengthening and multiplication and 51 percent leaving the Network. This move, however, was tied into cooperative effort and churches increasing in investment. Declining CP receipts have hampered this effort, making it unrealistic.
Stolle noted increases in CP giving were realized through 2007. In 2008, a shift occurred. From 2008 to 2013, CP giving dropped by $852,730, a 17.1 percent decrease. For the year ending Dec. 31, 2013, CP receipts were down by $84,893, a decrease of 2 percent. Stolle said management believes CP receipts for the remainder of 2015 will fall approximately $125,000 short of budget.
Skycroft Conference Center receipts of $2,163,004 represent the total receipts with camp attendees and the usage of the facility, serving an estimated 25,000 guests staying at least one night paying user fees.
In 2014, funds totaling $1.1 million were received from the sale of a conservation easement to the state of Maryland from Skycroft. These funds were designated to be used for needed improvements. In the 2015 budget, $105,000 has been budgeted to be set aside for future improvements.
The 2015 budget also anticipates $250,000 from the newly named “Gofwd Mid-Atlantic,” the ongoing State Missions Offering, which is being used as an additional funding stream to support the Mid-Atlantic Network ministries. This is in addition to the annual state missions offering goal, which is emphasized each September, of $190,000. McRaney stressed that through the years, some individuals and churches have designated gifts directly to the BCM/D. These designated gifts will now be called “Gofwd Mid-Atlantic” gifts. The Network will promote this funding stream throughout the year, rather than just using a once-a-year approach.
Network President’s Closing Remarks
Network President Robert Anderson read from Luke 11: 1-3, where Jesus’ disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
It wasn’t that they didn’t know how to pray. The average Hebrew learned many said prayers, at meals and temple, Anderson explained. “They were memorized to a T.” But what Jesus taught and practiced was different from what they were brought up with, Anderson explained.
“Jesus told them, When you pray, the first thing to say is ‘Father.’ What a concept that was! You won’t find where God is addressed as ‘Father’ in the Old Testament. You are in a relationship with the living God. Call him Father. The heart of what Jesus is getting at is teaching about relationship. When you are on your knees, I think it’s okay to say, ‘Daddy, who art in heaven.’ He is the God of the universe, sitting high and looking low, and He sees ‘relationship.’ He’s not ‘the man upstairs’ or ‘the supreme being.’ He is our father,” Anderson said.
Anderson said God has to give us continual trials so we will continue to seek and ask. We pray more when the water is deeper, and the soul is in the desert. “Thank God for challenges that drive us to our knees to talk to ‘Daddy.’” (Read Anderson’s full message here.)