HARRISBURG, PA (BRN)- At their February 24, 2024, meeting, Executive Board members of the Baptist Resource Network (BRN) celebrated Dr. Barry Whitworth’s upcoming 20th anniversary of service in Pennsylvania/South Jersey, heard updates on BRN’s ministries, and approved new efforts to streamline and take BRN’s work to the next level.

Barry with cake

Whitworth celebrated the completion of seven years as BRN’s executive director on February 1, and on March 1, he will celebrate his cumulative 20th year of service within the BRN as a North American Mission Board church planting missionary, state church planting director, and now the state executive director. The Executive Board presented Whitworth an anniversary gift, a set of binoculars, thanking him for his vision in the past and for the future for PA/SJ Baptists.

In his report, Whitworth, expressing concern that the BRN is operating in “one of the most challenging times within Christendom in the United States,” lamented, “Christianity today sometimes appears more reflective of current culture than it does the Kingdom to which Christ leads and died for.”

Cautioning against idolatry, Whitworth noted, “When you put something else in the place or front of God, you lose the capacity to spiritually hear and see the Lord’s heart. You lose the ability to walk in God’s ways and to taste and see that the Lord is good.”

For example, when the nation of Israel “began idolizing other things before God, and began to pick and choose a camp, they became divided and useless as God’s people,” he explained. “We need to be seen as a Board that takes the side of Jesus and promotes and encourages that we are doing all that we can to live under the characteristics of who we are as Kingdom citizens, but also as Great Commission Baptists.”

He added, “God is still working in many ways across our two-state region.” He referred to an infographic that the BRN communications team designed to showcase 2023 accomplishments. (See full infographic.)

Most notably, Cooperative Program (CP) giving has increased, exceeding the 2023 budget by $7,525. For the first time since the 2019 Covid pandemic, the BRN was in the black by $4,146.

He reported the average CP giving, per church, increased by $500, from $4,579 to almost $5,000, and that 73% of BRN churches gave to CP. “This is better than the national average amongst Southern Baptists, which stands at 55.66%,” he said.

Focusing on BRN’s efforts to help churches accelerate Kingdom movement, Whitworth reported that 85 individual churches have taken a recorded “Next Step,” defined as “doing something different that they haven’t done for a while, or ever before.” Twenty-nine of those churches have taken multiple steps, culminating in a total of 119 next step completions for 2023.

“We were very excited as a team to meet and exceed this goal,” Whitworth said, noting, “it keeps us on track to achieving our three-year goal of 150 churches having completed their next step.”

Among the other 2023 highlights:

• Nearly a quarter million dollars in ministry grants were distributed to BRN churches;
• The BRN team accomplished 13 “Pastoral Blessing” events, not counting the individual or couple blessings that took place for pastors and their wives;
• Nearly 225 #LovePASJ and evangelism kits were shared last year;
• Over 430 people attended BRN’s Accelerate and Advance Conferences.

Whitworth also praised churches for their involvement in Send Relief’s Send Tour Philadelphia, in which 329 volunteers from 26 BRN churches contributed to almost 700 gospel conversations and 74 salvations.

Buff McNickle, BRN’s director of compassion ministries and network development, shared about the upcoming Serve Erie tour (servepasj.com) on September 20-21, which will focus ministry on the state’s (and nation’s) poorest zip code. The BRN currently is identifying the communities’ most pressing needs in partnership with three BRN churches, Harborcreek Community Church, Millcreek Community Church, and Walnut Creek Baptist Church.

Serve Erie logoMcNickle said ministry projects will be posted live on the BRN’s website in July 2024. These projects include opportunities, such as evangelism, light construction, work with immigrants, mobile grill outreach, school and community beautification, and more!

Board vice president, Jason Hunter, pastor of First Baptist Church of Clarion, gave testimony to how his church’s participation at the Serve Tour in Philadelphia has impacted his church.

“The residual effect of bringing a team to Serve Tour Philly has paid off big dividends at our church,” Hunter said, explaining how the effort rejuvenated his church. “You get more out of it than what you put into it!”

Hunter challenged the Board members to get involved, not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of the churches in Erie, who are largely removed from BRN activities because of their distance away.

When we seek to Serve Erie, we are communicating to those churches that we understand the isolation they feel all the way in Erie, he said, and that “we care for you. You matter. We are here for you, too.”

In other news, the Executive Board heard about the plans underway to remodel the Warren House in Pittsburgh through a partnership with S.C. Baptists, underneath the leadership of Randy and Pam Creamer.

They also updated policies to require new affiliates to submit current Pennsylvania clearances or New Jersey background checks to show their compliance to state abuse prevention laws, and approved streamlining the Board’s work through a private, centralized intranet that will house all their needed documents for and in between meetings.

The Board also affirmed the 2023 Financial Summary report and discussed ideas for more effective promotion of the Cooperative Program, as well as efforts at the BRN to help the team go to the “Next Level” and provide greater quality service.

“Things have been going really good, but I want us to be awesome,” Whitworth said.

Board members voted on this year’s Nominating Committee who will nominate new board members for current vacancies and for those completing service in 2024. The committee members are Buff McNickle, representing the South Jersey region; Eric McMahon, representing the Greater Philadelphia region; Chuck Fricker, representing the Central region, and Deb Beswarick, representing the West region.

BRN Board President Dr. Brian King congratulates BRN Executive Director Barry Whitworth for his cumulative 20 years of service to PA/SJ.

In his address, Board President Dr. Brian King, pastor of Ezekiel Baptist Church in Philadelphia, pointed to Deuteronomy 4-6, which offers a recap of the Israelites’ experience after leaving Egypt as well as when Moses struck a rock in anger before the Lord. Moses could no longer enter the Promised Land.

“For years, I thought it was Moses’ lack of faith,” King admitted. But he later realized it was because Moses did not honor God’s holiness.

Similarly, King stressed that the BRN’s Board should seek to uphold the holiness of God, carefully following Him and remembering what He has done for us.

“Are you testifying—or testi‘LIE’ing?” he asked. “You should be testifying,” he emphasized. “There is absolutely NO God like the God we have!”

The next BRN Executive Board meeting will be Friday, May 17, 2024, at the Harrisburg Hub.