HARRISBURG, Pa., (BRN) – Placing a focus on showing the love of Christ and reaching the next generation, the Baptist Resource Network (BRN) of Pennsylvania/South Jersey appropriately kicked off its annual Accelerate Conference with 246 attendees – 132 messengers and 114 guests – worshipping to music led by students from Messiah University’s SEVEN.
Throughout the conference, the BRN’s Executive Board addressed business matters, guests attended engaging breakout sessions and pastors were urged by main session speaker and North American Mission Board (NAMB) Next Gen Director Shane Pruitt to share the gospel with the next generation.
Prior to the conference getting underway, the Baptist Resource Network’s Executive Board held their 52nd annual business session at 9 a.m. on Oct. 4, at the Sheraton Harrisburg Hershey Hotel in Harrisburg, Pa.
The outgoing president of the BRN Executive Board, Bryan McClelland, commenced the business session with prayer, followed by his annual report.
McClelland brought positive news to the messengers, reporting that the network’s Cooperative Program giving received from churches is ahead of this same period from last year. He also noted that the BRN’s most recent financial audit was successfully completed with a great report and all expense areas in 2022 are operating below budget.
During the business session, messengers approved a BRN budget of $2,189,750 for the upcoming fiscal year; this being a $50,000 increase from last year’s budget. For 2023, the network intends to give 62.7% of its income towards missions and ministry (the Cooperative Program, special offerings, church servicing and resourcing) and only 37.3% towards personnel and operations.
These numbers represent a 1.3% increase in Cooperative Program receipts from churches and an increase in Cooperative Program giving beyond Pennsylvania and South Jersey of 1% more (from 31% to 32%) forwarded for national and international Baptist causes.
In response to these increases, McClelland commented, “We are people of faith and, as we’re planning, we want to plan as people of faith.”
The 2022 business session wrapped up with messengers electing Dr. Brian King, lead pastor of Ezekiel Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., as the new president of the BRN Executive Board. Dr. King has previously served the BRN as convention president and has served on several SBC Committees. Currently, he is a Trustee for GuideStone Financial Resources. Upon his election, Rev. King came to the stage and led messengers in prayer to close out the business session.
Resourcing the Church
Executive Director of the BRN Dr. Barry Whitworth followed the business session and officially started the 2022 Accelerate Conference by presenting opening remarks, thanking the BRN Executive Committee and reminding conference guests what Accelerate is all about.
“Accelerate is designed to help encourage and motivate pastors and churches to move forward in the mission God has called them to do,” stated Whitworth.
“My greatest hope for the BRN is that we are a resource to help accelerate Kingdom movement amongst our churches.”
After recognizing special guests Charles E. Grant Jr., the Executive Director of Black Church Relations and Mobilization for the Southern Baptist Conference (SBC) Executive Committee, and NAMB Replant Specialist, East Region, David Jackson, Whitworth carried the conference into the first main session.
During this time, he touched on the urgency of showing the love of Christ, introduced the conference’s theme and revealed the network’s second phase of the #LovePASJ Initiative: SHOW.
“In 2018, statistics from the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Department of Health indicated that on average nearly 465 people a day die in our two-state area. If you consider that 85% of these people do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ that means, on average, every four minutes and 20 seconds someone dies without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” warned Whitworth.
“In my address time today, seven people will have perished without Christ and spend a hopeless eternity without him. In our time here today, 135 people will have died without having a relationship with Christ….who’s on your watch?”
In an effort to help its churches meet these urgent, spiritual needs, the BRN unveiled its second #LovePASJ kit, which includes compassion ministry planning guides, a prayer guide, small group Bible study, evangelism tracts, a sample evangecube, a gospel presentation app and more. A kit was provided for every attendee.
Whitworth also informed those in attendance of several other resource opportunities, including the LovePASJ Legacy Fund, the Ukrainian refugee winter drive, a new BRN texting feature and a Pastoral Wellness Program, which features resources offered by GuideStone Financial Services, Full Strength Network (FSN) and the BRN.
“We recognize that pastoring is difficult. We also recognize that the pastor is key to the overall success of a local church. Beginning today, to show our love and support towards you, we are formally launching a Pastoral Wellness Program for our pastors and their families.”
Endorsed and funded through the Executive Board of the BRN, the wellness program will use resources gifted to the BRN and minimal Cooperative Program dollars to provide opportunities for recreation, respite, reassurance and restrengthening for its lead/senior pastors, associate pastors, collegiate ministers and BRN team members as well as for their family members.
Through the BRN’s partnership with GuideStone, BRN pastors are eligible for free life insurance, free disability insurance and supplemental funds towards retirement. Through Full Strength Network, pastors and other BRN ministry leaders, as well as their families, can safely and confidentially participate in free counseling and/or coaching for up to three years.
Through the BRN, pastors will be invited to participate in “Pastors Blessings,” these are recreational opportunities that will allow pastors and their families to have fun and relax with other BRN pastors and pastors’ families. The BRN also offers pastors access to its newly renovated guest house in Harrisburg and two of its mission homes located in both Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
“It is my hope that every pastor feels valued and loved, and that there are ways and means to help them get full-strength in doing what God has called them to do.”
Those interested in the Pastoral Wellness Program are encouraged to reach out to their regional church health consultant or call the BRN’s help desk at (717) 652-5856.
Whitworth wrapped up his time by addressing some of the recent challenges Southern and Great Commission Baptists have faced.
“It is no secret that the sins of others, sometimes in our own SBC family, impact the work we seek to do as Baptists in PA/SJ,” stated Whitworth.
“People and pastors ask me all the time, ‘What do you think about what is going on in the SBC?’…My answer is normally that the only thing that matters is that we are accomplishing what our King has directed to be and do. Nothing else.”
Whitworth went on to explain some of the safeguards and policies the BRN has implemented to “help preserve and protect the testimony of our institution and the people who are associated with our work.”
“We’ve created policies around us to help us function with a high level of integrity. I want us to be a difference maker in this messed up world. Let’s be different, let’s cooperate around the things that matter most. Let’s be a people full of truth and grace.”
Reaching the Next Gen
After choosing from a variety of breakout sessions, 10 in total, Accelerate Conference guests heard from National Next Gen Director Shane Pruitt.
Pruitt first emphasized the need for sharing the gospel with the next generation, urging pastors and church members that “now is the time” to reach tomorrow’s leaders.
“When it comes to the next generation, we don’t need to dumb it down, we need to disciple them up,” said Pruitt.
According to the Wall Street Journal, only 30% of Generation Z says, “religion is very important to them.” Barna Research Group reports that even less than that, roughly 20%, say, “attending church is very important to them.”
When calculated, there is a total of 57,600,000 spiritually lost individuals in Generation Z. Alone, this generation could create the largest state by 18 million people.
“I think you could almost call Gen Z in the United States an unreached people group…[So,] how do we reach Gen Z? With the gospel of Jesus Christ,” stated Pruitt.
Through Acts 1:8, Pruitt urged Accelerate attendees to be the Church now and to share with students what today’s culture will not tell them.
“When culture is screaming about these things and the church remains silent, that generation only hears one voice.
“Culture also preaches…culture also has some evangelists and they’re going after the next generation…culture doesn’t need our agendas or our politics, it needs Jesus.”
During his second main session, Pruitt offered eight facts leaders need to know about reaching, discipling and mobilizing the next generation:
- There’s no secret to reaching the next gen
- They are an endangered generation
- The next gen is a potential harvest
- They are the Church right now
- They are not ageist
- They’re an extremely diverse generation
- They know brokenness all too well
- The next generation is on a truth journey
Pruitt wrapped up by encouraging pastors, ministry leaders and college ministers to not overthink sharing the gospel with the next generation, but to give them the Word of God and to see them not as the ‘future of the Church,’ but rather as the Church right now.
“Young people are desperate for truth. They are a truth hungry generation…young people are over the fluff and puff…[so] preach the Word of God because, I promise you, they will not hear that anywhere else.”
For more resources on reaching the next generation, visit the BRN Collegiate Ministry page or NAMB’s Calling out the Called website.
The conference portion of the day then concluded with a Q and A moderated by Accelerate Conference Emcee Kevin Marsico and Dr. Barry Whitworth. The panel featured Pruitt as well as several BRN collegiate ministers and lead pastors.
Responding to the Nations
At the conclusion of the conference, guests were invited to attend a special dinner which featured worship by Sasha and Vita Livantsov of Voices of Ukraine. The Livantsov family arrived in the United States right before the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine, having listened to the urging of the Holy Spirit, who positioned them in Poland to receive refugee families. For many years, they have led worship in Ukraine, and now do so in the U.S. Since arriving in the Harrisburg area, they have been attending East Shore Baptist Church.
During the dinner, a love offering was collected to help purchase winter coats for Ukrainian refugees. Messengers and Accelerate Conference guests were also given backpacks to fill with winter supplies for refugees. Filled backpacks can be dropped off at participating collection sites no later than Nov. 6.
For more information on the Ukrainian winter drive or to donate visit the winter drive page on our website.
The BRN will host its second annual Advance Evangelism Conference on March 20, 2023. It will feature keynote speakers Executive Director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Nathan Lorick and NAMB Personal Evangelism Director J.J. Washington. Learn more at advancepasj.com.
Editor’s Note: See Dr. Barry Whitworth’s full address transcript here.