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Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network celebrates 180th year

OCEAN CITY, Md. (BP) — Nearly 500 messengers and guests representing 165 churches gathered for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network’s 180th celebration Nov. 8-10 in Ocean City, Md.

Messengers welcomed a new interim executive director, received a report on the status of the executive director search, and approved a budget that includes a new strategic partnership with the North American Mission Board and a 1 percent increase of receipts forwarded to the Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program missions and ministries.

In a year of transition, the theme of the meeting was “Loving Our Neighbors,” with an emphasis on being one in Christ and reaching out to share the Gospel with a lost and dying world.

Network catalyst Reid Sterrett, who served as master of ceremonies for the three-day meeting, announced a recent transition in interim leadership for the Network (also known as the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware).

Rick Hancock, who recently became 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 in the interim role and as chief financial officer following the resignation of Will McRaney in June.

Victor Kirk, pastor of Sharon Bible Fellowship Church in Lanham, chairperson of the executive director search committee, reported that the application process closed on Oct. 15, fielding seven 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 receipts of $3.875 million as well as increased church planting funds as a result of a new strategic partnership with NAMB.

General Mission Board President Mark Dooley said the budget covers some “extremely exciting” new initiatives supported by the State Missions Offering and additional budgeted funds, including church revitalization and new strategically-targeted African American, Jewish and Muslim church planting as well as planting churches for families with special needs.

Dooley, senior pastor of Leonardtown (Md.) Baptist Church, noted that the 2016 spending plan includes a 1 percentage point increase in the convention’s Cooperative Program giving for SBC causes. In 2015, 41.5 percent of CP receipts were forwarded to the SBC for national and international missions and ministries rather than being kept “home,” he said, explaining that, though CP receipts have not been increasing, the General Mission Board 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 allocation, sending more than keeping.

“To do that requires all of our churches to make a commitment to CP as our primary funding mechanism,” Dooley said. “While increasing our 1 percent won’t keep missionaries on the field, it’s a step in the right direction.”

Messengers re-elected Bill Warren, pastor of Allen Memorial Baptist Church in Salisbury, Md., as Network president. Curtis Hill, pastor of Ogletown Baptist Church in Newark, Del., was elected as first vice president and Keith Myer, pastor of Harvest Baptist Church in Salisbury, as second vice president. David Gaines, pastor of Manna Bible Baptist Church in Baltimore, was reelected as recording secretary and his wife Tracey will serve as assistant recording secretary.

Messengers and guests gave $2,165.01 to the annual offering, designated this year for ministry to international students in Ocean City.

Kicking off the annual meeting, Bill Warren told messengers, “I can think of no better way to call this meeting to order than through prayer.” He led a time of “worship-based” prayer, using Jesus’ priestly prayer in John 17 “that all may be one.”

“You prayed that we would be one even as You and the Father are one,” Warren prayed. “That’s impossible for us, Lord God … for You and the Father are one in a way that 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.”

Warren also led an hour-long, Scripture-based prayer time prior to the second day of the celebration events at the Clarion Fontainebleau Resort Hotel in Ocean City.

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.

Guest speaker Steve Davis, East Region vice president with the North American Mission Board, introduced NAMB’s new logo and message — to equip “every person in the pew to take the next step in missional engagement.” “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.”

Dennis Kim, pastor of Global Mission Church in Silver Spring, Md., in a message on the meeting’s theme, said the Old Testament patriarch Joseph was an “outstanding example” of loving one’s neighbors, especially when neighbors are unloving. Joseph endured hardships and setbacks in order to fulfill his God-given dreams, Kim said. “We must be faithful carrying out our God-given mission. We must be faithful in loving our neighbors,” he said.

Network director of missions Michael Crawford preached, “God has strategically put us in the generation of Caitlyn Jenners … where autism is on the rise, when the city of Baltimore is burning, and the people are killing each other. We are the generation that must own Ferguson … that serves under President Obama … that answers the cries of North Korea, because we were born for ‘such a time as this,’ and we’re going to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission.”

Warren, in his president’s address, asked, “What are you afraid of?” The typical top 10 fears, he said, include 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.

Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in North Mobile, Ala., 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 His people to fearlessly love the city where He has placed them because God loves those cities.

Special guest Christopher Duffley and his mother Christine of Vision of Hope based in Manchester, N.H., shared their testimonies and led a time of worship. Blind and autistic, 14-year-old Christopher is a nationally known speaker and singer. Christine, his then-aunt, visited Christopher as a baby when he was in foster care suffering from double pneumonia. She and her husband Stephen prayed, brought Christopher home and eventually adopted him as their son.

Christopher flourished in the love he found in his new home but as he grew he struggled to communicate, yet he responded to music and could sing. His parents 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 singing the song.

Drew Worsham, a Christian illusionist and campus pastor at Resonate Church in Pullman, Wash., brought a time of laughter and amazement as he performed such illusions as “guessing” cards people picked from a card deck.

“I’m not a guy who doesn’t understand the ‘trenches,'” said Worsham, who uses his illusionist performances to share the Gospel and encourage others in ministry. “I love and have a heartbeat for missions and church planting,” he said, encouraging the audience to lead their lost culture by loving their neighbors. Often, 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.”

The Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network’s 20016 celebration is scheduled for Nov 13-15 at Sheraton Baltimore North Hotel in Towson.