HARRISBURG (BRN) –On May 19, 2023, the Baptist Resource Network’s (BRN) Executive Board members agreed to “lean in” to ensure churches have sexual abuse prevention policies in place; voted to allow BRN’s Disaster Relief team to start fund-raising for a new facility to store its equipment, host trainings, and house DR preparedness materials; met with the new director of Send Network PA/SJ; and heard reports from Dr. Barry Whitworth on the BRN’s recent accomplishments and future endeavors. They also heard reports on the status of Cooperative Program giving and the rising number of baptisms and church attendance across the network.
As director of Send Network PA/SJ, John Cope, senior pastor of Keystone Fellowship in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, will oversee the North American Mission Board’s Send Network throughout all of Pennsylvania and South Jersey, including the already-established Send Cities: Send Pittsburgh and Send Philadelphia. This position, which he began on March 16, is designed to maximize multiplication across the convention. In addition to his extensive pastoral experience, Cope brings into this role a strong relationship with the BRN and Send Network’s new president, Vance Pittman. He told the Executive Board members he looks forward to working together with BRN to pour into pastors, foster a discipleship movement, and witness multiplication in the area.
A subcommittee from the Executive Board’s Administrative Committee reported on their response to the SBC Annual Church Profile (ACP) form’s newly required supplemental questions regarding sexual prevention policies in churches. They discussed the potential liability that exists if a church indicates “No” or “Prefer Not to Answer” on the form but recommended the BRN “lean in” to do all they can to prevent sexual abuse, nonetheless. This includes devising a plan to follow up with churches who appear to not have policies in place. (Note: It is a state law in Pennsylvania that all churches and nonprofit organizations have policies in place when working with minors. Abuse prevention as well as education and policies to prevent abuse is something the BRN has already been striving to make a priority for our affiliated churches. See a list of resources here). The recommendation carried.
The Executive Board also affirmed the Finance Committee’s recommendation to allow Kenton Hunt, PA/NJ Disaster Relief Director, to begin fund-raising efforts for a new storage warehouse and ministry center in Winfield, Pennsylvania. Corey Mitchell, pastor of Winfield Baptist Church, where the property is located, affirmed his church’s willingness to work with Kenton. Already, several disaster relief units are stored on the church’s property. The storage warehouse would provide protection from the environment, as well as provide another space for training and mission team stays. An early estimation is that it would cost $500,000 to build. The motion carried.
In his report, BRN Executive Director Barry Whitworth recognized the favor of God on the BRN. Most notably, he said he is witnessing increasing receptivity to the BRN’s new strategy, which assists churches in taking their next steps. Already, the BRN has seen 61 churches this year complete their next step in where they believe Jesus wants them to go next, he said. He expressed gratitude for how churches are responding to the BRN’s Pastoral Wellness initiatives, including the Full Strength Network’s counseling/coaching and the BRN’s Pastoral Blessing programs.
Sharing his excitement about the growing number of baptisms being reported across the two-state region, Whitworth pointed to a May 9 Lifeway Research article, which shared that Southern Baptist congregations average one baptism for every 73 members. However, last year (2022) PA/SJ averaged one baptism for every 15 members, placing the BRN in the top two of all SBC state conventions. Pointing to last year’s Annual Church Profile (ACP), he said, “We recorded close to 1,000 baptisms from our churches… but I believe it is much higher because not all our churches reported their ACP.”
Whitworth shared about the May 15-16 #MultiplyPASJ gathering for church leaders from reproducing and reinvesting churches (churches who are multiplying disciples, leaders, new ministries, and new churches and helping others to do the same). Nearly 30 churches participated in the two-day workshop, Whitworth said, explaining a main goal of the BRN team is to have 75 Multiplying Churches by the end of 2028. “This is something that we believe will radically begin to change the BRN and the culture that we serve in,” he said.
Whitworth also shared about the development of a comprehensive BRN Family Guide that explains the work of the BRN to churches, partners, future affiliates, and investors of the BRN. The 80-page booklet, produced by BRN’s Communications Director, Shannon Baker, is designed to walk churches through understanding “who we are” and “what we do.”
Whitworth continued, “Given all these wonderful things we are seeing and experiencing, we know it’s no secret to any of us that we have been navigating through many cultural and spiritual challenges… Spiritually, we’re caught between two realities; the reality of becoming more acceptable and agreeable to whatever the culture desires, or by being so legalistic that we look more like authoritative religious lunatics instead being a grace-filled people who exemplify and represent Jesus Christ.” He expressed his concern that “we are becoming, as Baptists, more of what we stand against than what we should be known for, the gospel.”
He led a discussion among the board members, “How do we navigate and build through both the positivity and negativity we are experiencing around us today?”
Whitworth concluded, “Despite the challenges we face, my hope is that we can rise above and continue through these external challenges with God’s favor and blessing upon us.”
Andy Weber, BRN’s director of finance and operations, presented a financial management report for the financial period ending March 31, 2023. Cooperative Program receipts are the second highest in BRN history for the first quarter, he said. Receipts are up $5,114 through the same period in 2022. Cooperative Program at the end of this month shows that the BRN is behind the year-to-date budget by $12,588, or 4.53%. Noting there were a few churches that give monthly that were not received for March prior to closing, Weber said, “This has been a great start to 2023. Praise the Lord!”
In his remarks, Dr. Brian King, Executive Board president and pastor of Ezekiel Baptist Church in Philadelphia, spoke on 2 Timothy 1:12, a letter written to Timothy by the apostle Paul, who says, “But I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.” Though imprisoned for “proclaiming and defending the Word of God,” Paul says he is not ashamed.
“We are here today to do the work of the Lord,” King said. “We have to keep in mind that we are going to be attacked … because what we are about is Kingdom work.” He acknowledged we have an enemy who seeks to attack followers of Christ. “So, you have to be persuaded—convinced—that what you are doing today is for the Lord.”
To get there, he cautioned, like Paul who experienced attacks, beatings and stonings, you “have to go through some things with God before you can be convinced.” He added, “But God is able to keep it! When society changes, it doesn’t mean Jesus changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever!” King closed his message by leading the board members in singing the hymn, “Blessed Assurance.”
The next Executive Board meeting will be on October 2, followed by the annual business session and Accelerate Conference on October 3, at the Sheraton Harrisburg Hershey Hotel.