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Fellowship blankets Mont. annual meeting

BELGRADE, Mont. (BP)–In 1963, Roger and Patty Hill moved to Montana to grow a church after graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas.

They didn’t stop with one congregation: Hill received a “Fisher of Men” lifetime achievement award and an extended standing ovation during the Montana Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting at Belgrade Baptist Church.

“You were at First Baptist Three Forks for 26 years, started six churches in Treasure State Baptist Association during that time, and then God sent you to western Montana to lead a church planting movement that grew Glacier Baptist Association from nine to 33 churches,” said Dave Howeth, the convention’s church planting team leader, as he presented Hill with a table-top bronze of a fly fisherman releasing a trout back to a stream.

“You have been a model of integrity and of what a pastor and missionary is to be, in being a fisher of men,” Howeth told Hill.

Now in their 46th year in Montana, the Hills continue to serve from their new home in Billings. He is interim pastor of Columbus (Mont.) Baptist Church.

Also during the meeting, William and Teresa Johnson — he’s pastor of Gallatin Valley Baptist Church in Manhattan, Mont. — received the Montana 2009 Church Planter of the Year -– Fisher of Men Award.

“William and Teresa began as our first church planter interns in 2003 and then God broke their hearts over the Manhattan that is in Montana, in the heart of the Gallatin Valley,” Howeth said. “Today the church has grown to over 100 and they have reproduced by helping to sponsor a new church plant in Townsend.

“You have demonstrated a commitment to the call of Christ and paid a price to live and plant your lives in this place,” Howeth told the Johnsons. “You have demonstrated a passion by fulfilling the call of Christ to be fishers of men.”

The MTSBC annual meeting was as much a time to rekindle friendships — and make new ones — as it was to be inspired, encouraged and challenged by the preaching of Mel Blackaby, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ga.; to worship God under the leadership of Pam Crittenden, a former Nashville studio musician who leads worship at Meadow View Community Church (Southern Baptist) in Missoula, Mont.; and to conduct the business of the state convention.

Fellowship coated the proceedings, accenting the theme of the Oct. 7-8 meeting: “A Fresh Touch from God.” Before each morning’s session, a light breakfast was offered in Belgrade Baptist’s fellowship hall, and more food was offered during morning and afternoon breaks. Fellowship took place around tables, in hallways and in front of several display areas that showcased the work God is doing through Southern Baptists in Montana, across the nation and around the world.

A total of 108 messengers from 53 churches registered for the annual meeting; another 57 registered as non-voting guests.

New this year: a first-ever luncheon provided by Yellowstone Baptist College, the only Southern Baptist-related college in the Northwest which was established in Billings in 1994. As part of the luncheon, an alum on stateside assignment from the Southern Baptist International Mission Board presented a slide show of her work in a security-sensitive part of the world. She is one of four Yellowstone graduates serving in international missions. A trio of current YBC students provided special musical.

Down one hall of Belgrade Baptist was a room filled with a variety of new western jackets, free for pastors and vocational staff, the gift of the owner of a Western store and member of Oak Street Baptist Church in Graham, Texas, which recently sent a construction mission team to help renovate the building of a disbanded Southern Baptist church in the Bozeman area where plans are in the offing to start a new work.

Down another hall, the Salt Lake bookstore affiliated with LifeWay Christian Resources offered a variety of Christian books and gifts for sale. In yet another room, free curriculum was laid out, to be taken and used.

One event that had been eagerly anticipated was a prayerwalk across Bozeman, one of the seven largest cities in Montana, home to the 12,000-student Montana State University, and yet sorely under-evangelized by any group.

Southern Baptists have one campus church, led by longtime Baptist Collegiate Ministries director Joe Todd, and Kirkwood Baptist led by area missionary Steve Fowler to minister to the 70,000 or more people (not counting students) in the greater Bozeman area.

Plan A was to section off the city into areas that could be prayerwalked in an hour. But with an unexpectedly early snow storm, the prayerwalk turned into a prayer drive, and that was a good thing, leaders said.

“‘Walk with Me One Hour’ turned into ‘Watch with Me One Hour’ as dozens of people drove to Bozeman in the snow to saturate Bozeman with prayer Wednesday afternoon,” Howeth said. “The snow falling symbolized to several of us that the same outpouring of God’s Spirit needed to be dispensed on the city as large wet snow flakes fell across the city.

“The trees seem to bend closer to the ground from the weight of the snow, signifying how we must enter this city and neighborhoods bent and broken for God over the lostness of this place,” Howeth continued. “The grass was being covered with white snow accumulating that afternoon as many cried out to God to cleanse us and the people from their sins and wash us as white as snow.”

Most people collaborated and rode together, and most stopped in front of schools, businesses and on street corners to pray for people, places, schools and businesses across Bozeman before moving by vehicle to another spot and place.

“A few of us did get out of the car and walked our areas assigned to us and experienced a fresh touch and fall of God’s Spirit as the snow fell,” Howeth said. “What a God thing to hear a message from Mel Blackaby on prayer and then in a time of response move to the streets to be practitioners. Several people indicated they could do this in their neighborhoods and in their community back in their mission field.”

The business of the state convention included unanimous passage of the 2010 budget. At $1,519,212, it is $22,899 less than the 2008-09 budget. It includes an anticipated $477,960 in Cooperative Program giving from Montana churches, $903,252 from the SBC’s North American Mission Board and $65,000 from LifeWay Christian Resources. The budget also anticipates $68,000 from the state convention’s six associations to help pay the salaries of the area missionaries.

The convention will continue to forward 22 percent of its receipts through the Cooperative Program for national and international missions and ministry. The 2010 budget expenditures also include $12,000 to Yellowstone Baptist College.

William Johnson, pastor of Gallatin Valley Community Church, was elected as convention president and Carl Wood, a layman from First Baptist Church in Hamilton, Mont., as vice president, both without opposition.

Six people were elected as a slate to join the convention’s executive board: Rex Hunter, layman from First Baptist, Hamilton; Bill Sikes, pastor of First Baptist, Forsyth; Bobby King, pastor of Crossroads Baptist, Great Falls; David Strand, pastor of Mt. Hagin Baptist, Anaconda; Richard Clark, pastor of Three Forks Baptist; and Roger Hill, interim pastor of Columbus Baptist.

New members of the 15-person trustee board at Yellowstone Baptist College also were elected: Faye Good from First Baptist, Circle; Jeff Thomas, Emmanuel Baptist, Billings; Mona Rutter, South Hills Baptist, Montana City; and Gerald Ackerman, Columbus Baptist.

The Montana Southern Baptist Convention has been realigned into one team — including area missionaries — with three facets: strengthening churches, starting churches and sending churches — since the arrival of Fred Hewett as executive director in 2008. Each of the group leaders reported to the messengers, as did Hewett. Those reports — and others related to the work of Montana Southern Baptists — are available online or in printed form from the MTSBC office.

“This is His work we’re talking about today, and we want to keep it that way,” said Greg Peterson, pastor of Little Rockies Community Baptist Church in Zortman and outgoing MTSBC president, as he welcomed messengers and guests to the annual meeting. “If you don’t have the touch, you’re out of touch,” he added, referring to the meeting’s Fresh Touch from God theme.

“I’m very proud of the churches, pastor and laypeople of Montana,” Hewett said in his report. “We’re above budget. You’ve been faithful to doing what God called you to do. … We tightened belts early in the year and have stayed in the black ever since.”

The relationship-building, fellowship and encouragement of the annual meeting helped sustain pastors who minister in isolation — oftentimes 100 miles or more from the next-nearest Southern Baptist church — but as iron sharpens iron, a challenging word also was heard, and Mel Blackaby, former pastor at Bow Valley Baptist Church in Cochrane, Alberta, provided it during three messages.

“I have the sense God is desperately trying to get our attention,” Blackaby preached from Matthew 7:21. “How many churches are doing a great job, but the wrong job? Activity doesn’t impress God. … If you love God and people, He will grow the church.”

The evangelical community and the nation have lost the fear of God, Blackaby preached in his second sermon from Nehemiah 1:8-11.

“We’re in trouble,” he said. “Not because of the world, but because of the sin in the church…. Do you have a reverent, holy fear of God? Repent, that times of refreshing may come from God.”

Blackaby’s third message echoed the lifetime call of his father, Henry Blackaby: “Adjust to what He is doing,” the younger Blackaby preached from 2 Kings 6. “The Holy Spirit is given to you on assignment from God. He is not your servant. … Learn to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Next year’s annual meeting will be Oct. 6-7 in Great Falls.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of The Montana Baptist and the Louisiana Baptist Message, official newsjournals for those state conventions.