HARRISBURG, Pa. (BP) — Messengers to the annual meeting of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey celebrated the theme “Forward in Faith,” based on Hebrews 10:38-39, and appointed a task force to evaluate the convention’s future.
A total of 141 messengers and 76 guests from 71 of the convention’s 389 congregations and nearly 48,000 members gathered Nov. 3-4 at The Central Hotel & Conference Center in Harrisburg.
Kim Grueser, the convention’s president, was appointed as chairman of the Forward in Faith Task Force with seven members including state staff.
The task force, which is not tied to the national Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and which was initiated prior to the announcement of changes from the North American Mission Board, will address areas of the convention that need improvement.
No specific timeline has been set for a final report of the task force, but its work will be reviewed at the next Executive Board meeting in February.
Messengers approved a 2012 budget of $3,482,187, which is 5.48 percent less than the current year but increases by .1 percent the amount of Cooperative Program budget receipts forwarded to national and international missions and ministries. Of an anticipated $823,958 in CP giving from Pennsylvania and South Jersey churches, the convention will forward 25.4 percent.
Grueser was re-elected president without opposition, as were first vice president Lou Paradiso and recording secretary Doug Lesher. Grueser is pastor of Pittsburgh Baptist Church in Pittsburgh; Paradiso is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in York, Pa.; and Lesher is a member of Thompsontown Baptist Church in Thompsontown, Pa. Elected without opposition for second vice president was Steve Clifton, pastor of Bread of Life Church in Altoona, Pa.
Bible studies based on the theme were delivered by David Penley, a counseling professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former pastor of Dallas Baptist Church in Dallas, Pa., and Ashley Shook, pastor of Lake Pointe Community Church in Erie, Pa.
Penley emphasized the encouragement God provides when believers endure difficult times. This is not the time to retreat but to move forward, Penley said.
Shook said at any given time believers either are moving forward or moving backward, individually and corporately. To move forward, believers must be unencumbered by sin, be faithful in endurance and fix their eyes on Jesus, he said.
“God didn’t call Penn-South Jersey to start well. He’s called us together to finish well,” Shook said.
Aslam Masih, a former Philadelphia pastor, brought greetings from the North American Mission Board, and Jeff Christopherson, NAMB’s regional vice president for Canada and the Northeast, explained some changes taking place at the mission board.
Christopherson described some of the partnerships being developed between churches and church plants throughout the nation, and he noted that NAMB trustees were in Philadelphia in October for a Vision Tour. Some trustees, he said, are becoming advocates for the region.
David Waltz, executive director of the Penn-Jersey convention, delivered the state of the convention report, discussing the idea of altering the convention structure to include regions divided equally by population.
“This is a radically new and different way to do our work,” Waltz said, adding that he believes God is leading the convention in that direction in light of NAMB funding cuts.
Waltz also described what sets Southern Baptists apart: a strong biblical foundation and a serious grasp of the missions mandate with a commitment to cooperation.
“If we’re going to do a God-sized task, we’ve got to do it together. That’s what Southern Baptist is to me,” Waltz said.
The convention’s Executive Board affirmed the 1% Challenge given by SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page, Waltz said. Page has asked churches across the SBC to increase their giving through the Cooperative Program by at least 1 percent during the next year.
“Now is the time to step forward, to turn the tide, if you will, and I think we’re just foolish enough to do it here in Penn-South Jersey,” Waltz said. “We’re not so encrusted that we can’t make some changes. We are going to set the pace, and I invite you to do that, move forward to reach the lost world, and together, together let’s reach Penn-South Jersey and the world for Christ.”
Page spoke to messengers about the SBC structure and explained the duties of the Executive Committee. On the Cooperative Program, Page said, “CP only works under a spirit of selflessness. What we do best, we do together.”
During the time allotted for the convention president’s sermon, Grueser hosted a question-and-answer time with Page. He began by asking whether Page has a favorite Bible verse. Page said he has about 15,000 of them but narrowed his choice to Isaiah 40:8, which says, “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.”
When speaking about the future of the SBC, Page praised the Penn-Jersey convention’s intentional inclusion of ethnic groups.
“Good conventions like yours have reached out ethnically and are doing great work in church planting,” Page said.
John Cope, pastor of Keystone Fellowship in North Wales, Pa., delivered the convention sermon, stressing the importance of church planting and discipleship.
No resolutions were presented at the meeting.
Next year’s annual meeting of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey will be Nov. 1-2 at Faith Community Church Lakeside in McMurray, Pa.
Fanny Grote is associate Editor of the Penn Jersey Baptist, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey.