Good morning. Thank you for being with us today. It is an honor and privilege to serve as your executive director of the BRN. Before I begin sharing what God has laid on my heart, I want to acknowledge some people and guests here today. First and foremost, I want to acknowledge my greatest teammate in life, my wife Beth. Next, I want to acknowledge my (your) team, respectfully known as Team BRN. I want to thank each one of them for all the hard work they perform and are seeking to accomplish in helping to accelerate Kingdom movement across the BRN. I want to acknowledge and thank our Executive Board, and the Executive Board Leadership Team, which not only supports and encourages me, but also holds me accountable to the responsibilities entrusted into my care. I want to acknowledge all of our partners and sponsors for their support of our work at the BRN. We couldn’t do what we do without you. I also want to acknowledge some special guests that are with us today.
Today, we celebrate 50 years of ministry as a network of churches who have sought to push back darkness with the gospel and expand the Kingdom across Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey. There are not enough words, or time, to reflect on the impact that many individuals, pastors, churches, and BRN staff have accomplished to get us where we are at this moment in our history. Today, I want to thank everyone who contributed much time and resources to help bring us to this moment in time. When we started, we had three missions; today, we have nearly 330 churches and missions throughout our two-state area. The BRN is now one of the largest evangelical organizations that exist in Pennsylvania and South Jersey today. There is much we could say about our history, but to save time today we’ve included 14 pages in your program to share a word about our rich and productive history.
Happy Anniversary BRN!
Today, we also start of our next 50 years of ministry, and we inaugurate our very first Accelerate Conference. Accelerate is designed to help encourage and challenge the BRN family of churches to be fueled and inspired to accelerate Kingdom movement across Pennsylvania and South Jersey. Accelerate is also designed so that future generations of BRN pastors and churches can have an arena to be inspired and motivated to carry on the mission of the BRN TOGETHER. It is our prayer today that we will launch out of this experience challenged and inspired to fulfill our mission TOGETHER.
As you already know, the last 20 months has been an extremely hard landscape for the church to navigate through. This period, along with the earlier 1908-09 Spanish Flu pandemic, might be one of the toughest times that the church has ever had to navigate through. I cannot remember a time when so many churches have closed, pastors have left their ministries, and churches are struggling to have their members stay engaged and connected with their local church. I am keenly aware that there are many who serve in ministry today that have gone through their own form of some type of traumatic stress through this period of time. We acknowledge that pastors need to be refreshed and encouraged at this moment in time. Our team has been, and will continue, to figure out ways to bless and refresh pastors to continue moving forward for the cause of Christ.
The one thing I always want a pastor to know is that you are never alone. And, if for some reason you feel isolated, please let us know. Our heart is to encourage you in your journey of pastoral ministry. This year alone, it has been our joy to encourage over 180 pastors and their spouses through the Pastor and Pastor Spouse Blessings Initiative, and we will continue to do so in the year to come.
There are two scriptures that come to mind when I think of this period of time that we find ourselves in, a scripture that communicates reality and another scripture that speaks of hope and inspiration.
The first scripture is from 2 Chronicles 15:1-6 where God is speaking through the prophet Azariah to King Asa of Judah. In this text, God says to this King and His people that “The Lord is with you when you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you abandon Him, He will abandon you. 3 For many years Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without instruction, 4 but when they turned to the Lord God of Israel in their distress and sought Him, they found Him. 5 In those times there was no peace for those who went about their daily activities because the residents of the lands had many conflicts. 6 Nation was crushed by nation and city by city, for God troubled them with every possible distress.”
It’s important to note here that God’s people had forgotten that God was the all-powerful, awe-inspiring Creator of the universe. It is also important to note that they had many teaching priests, but they didn’t have ones to speak truth; they stopped telling the truth. And finally, they’d lost an accurate view of God, and a proper respect for God’s law as expressed in His Word. They turned their eyes away from the true God, closed their ears to the truth, and turned their backs on God’s Word. The result? No peace; conflict; and being troubled with every kind of distress. The answer to all this distress was simply: “The Lord is with you when you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you abandon Him, He will abandon you” (v. 2). I think the question for us today is, “What are we seeking, and whose agenda are we really pursuing? Christ’s Kingdom agenda or our own?
The other scripture that comes to mind in this period of time is Exodus 14. It’s the passage that tells the story of Moses leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. When Pharaoh is persuaded by God to go after the Israelites because they were traveling towards the Red Sea, some interesting things happen. First, the people of God complained because they thought what they had in Egypt (comfort, security, and some measure of control) was being removed from them. Moses seemed poised to once again to fight with the “rod of God” in his hand. Verses 13 and 14 communicate Moses’ stance: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Then God steps in and does something no one was expecting. He communicates to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to MOVE ON” (capitalization mine). They couldn’t go back to what they had, and what they now had standing before them (the Red Sea) seemed to be a bigger challenge of their faith.
Does that sound familiar to the church that is currently stuck in the middle of a pandemic? God told the Israelites to “move on, move forward” with Him, so He alone would gain the glory for what would happen next. I believe these two passages describe where we find ourselves today. Some of God’s people have lost sight of the fact that God is the Sovereign One who is in control, that what God has said in His Word, is His Word (not our own interpretation), and that if we turn completely in faith to Him we will find Him, and He will be glorified through the work He does through His people. Instead, we often battle amongst ourselves striving to live in our past no different than the attitude of the Israelites who longed for “the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic of our past.” I believe God is saying to the church today, “Why are you whining and complaining about what you don’t have. . . MOVE ON!”
Now I could take the remainder of our time sharing about what we’ve done in the last 20 months as a team, and there is a bunch of things we’ve accomplished. Your Executive Board has heard all these things in several reports that I have given them over these last 20 months. My virtual report last year outlined numerous ways that our team responded to churches during the pandemic. But, today, I am choosing to build on the words that God gave Moses, “move on.”
I want to highlight for you our new mission, strategy and some projects that we have created through our two-year plus work with Denominee. I want to give you a glimpse of not only what we’ve been doing, but also what we are building within our system to help our churches get so healthy that they reproduce disciples, leaders, new ministries, and new churches for the glory of God. We believe that this is the definition of a healthy church. A healthy church is one that reproduces disciples, leaders, new ministries and new churches. This IS our vision for the BRN: “Every church a healthy multiplying church.” This is not a “coined phrase,” we believe it is to be a biblical reality! Our vision includes seeing 60 or more of these types of churches across the BRN within the next five years.
The work we have done with Denominee, with Will Mancini, our keynote speaker with us today, has helped us shape what is to be our future (next step) operating system within the BRN. If you turn to pages 40–43 in your program you can see our new mission strategy, values, and system measurements. Our mission at the BRN moving forward is to help any BRN church take their next step towards accelerating movement for our King, Jesus. We want to help you to identify whatever it is you believe God’s next step is for you as a church. We believe if we can see churches take a step moving forward, this will give them a faith boost, and synergy, to see movement in their neighborhoods and local community.
How will we help a church take their next step? First, the church has to want to take that step. Then, the church has to assess where they are as it relates to their own church health. Like a doctor who cannot make you take a physical to examine what is going on in your physical body, the BRN cannot make a church want to analyze and see what next steps they can take towards health. Our strategy begins at the point of assessing health, and then identifying where you are as a church.
We’ve identified that churches today are in either one of four stages of church health: restarting, revitalization, reproduction, or reinvesting. They are either dying, declining, stabilizing, or growing. Once a church identifies its health status, we want to come alongside and help them take their next step towards getting stronger, healthier and growing. Remember the end game is “Every church a healthy multiplying church.” Once their health stage has been assessed, we want to help assist them where they need to go next, do whatever we can to help them activate their plans through resourcing, and then help advance their health and growth within the Kingdom.
Again, our mission is to help churches accelerate Kingdom movement. Now I know that strategy is just a strategy on paper if it doesn’t have a system to help make it work. We are building a system for our strategy and for our future. Most things fail because it does not have an adequate system to carry their strategy forward. We have built and are establishing pathways and different collectives for churches that are seeking and desiring to get healthier.
For churches seeking revitalization, we have designed a two-year pathway to help them become revitalized. For churches reproducing and reinvesting, we have established a collective of churches who are reproducers and re-investors who are seeking to get stronger together to the point of multiplication. For those who need to restart, we are utilizing a process to help them get to the place of either restarting with what they have, or by leaving a legacy of faith by allowing something new to be started again.
Our greatest desire is to see movement amongst our churches, and to see our healthiest of churches one day reinvesting in the work of restarting and revitalizing other churches. We want to see a “flywheel effect” begin to take hold within our network, that is every church moving towards health that ultimately multiples itself.
Our goal over the next year is to see movement among 50 churches that decided to take their next step towards getting healthier and stronger. We invite you, pastor, to allow us the opportunity to help you take this next step, or to help you create a “next step operating system” for your church.
There are also two other things you’re seeing today from our work with Denominee. This Accelerate Conference came out of our project work with Denominee. We believe if we are going to be successful moving forward as a network, then we need to be consistently challenging ourselves as a network to not only strive to greater health, but to strive to do things together. Our hope is that this conference from year-to-year will help build energy and synergy across the BRN. We also believe that Accelerate can be a great gift to pass on to future pastors and leaders within the BRN.
You’ve probably noticed that the theme for this year’s Accelerate is #LovePASJ. #LovePASJ was another project that came out of our work with Denominee. You can find out the details about this initiative on pages 16-23 of your program . #LovePASJ is a three-year initiative to help inspire our churches coming out of the pandemic to focus not only on the Great Commission, but the Great Commandment and what some call the Great Compassion, all found in Matthew 28, 22, and 25.
One of the greatest things I realized lately is that it is impossible to fulfill the Great Commission without love and compassion. Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Without love and compassion we will have no voice, without displaying the love and compassion of Christ we will never have an audience.
This is what LovePASJ is all about.
Our hope is that our churches would move out to get to know their neighbors by praying and ministering to them, by showing the love of Christ to their neighbors, and then by helping their neighbors to grow in a love relationship with Jesus.
When the church went “virtual,” we know we lost some of our capability to show the love of Christ. Sometimes we don’t know how to show love, because we don’t understand the ones we’re trying to love. Recent studies show that church membership has fallen under 50% for the first time in the history of the American church. 30% of people are now classifying themselves as having no religious affiliation. We are in a crisis mode!
So, in the next year, we are focusing on helping our churches to get to know their neighbors by understanding their neighbors around them. We’ve created a kit of resources for our churches to help them to exegete (understand/know) their neighborhoods. Once a church signs on to this initiative, they will receive this kit. They will also have access, via online, to all the materials available within the kit. By signing up, each church will receive a banner to display in their church, which includes their community name on it, to help motivate and encourage their church members to get to know and eventually show the love of Christ in their neighborhoods and communities.
We’re asking 100 churches to sign on to this endeavor this year. Across the BRN, we’re hoping by the end of this initiative in 2024 that 500 neighborhoods and communities will have been exegeted, we will have engaged in 5,000 gospel conversations, and will have started 50 new congregations in communities all across the BRN.
I want every pastor to know this today. This is not another program you have to implement in your church; all you have to do is champion it before your people to accomplish it. All the resources are created for church members to accomplish this for themselves. If a church of 50 has five people who take praying for and getting to know their neighbors better, the fruit of 5 is greater than 0. Five families potentially could be born again into the Kingdom, and that can and will make a difference within a church. I’m asking you, pastor, to just unleash your people to use these tools. I’m asking that you fill out the card in your bag and sign on to #LovePASJ today.
In addition, we are so serious about loving our neighbors to Christ that we are giving our State Missions Offering a new name to help honor the legacy of Ed and Mary Price, our first missionaries to our state convention and to whom the offering is named after. Moving forward the state missions offering will be known as the #LovePASJ State Missions Offering in honor of Ed and Mary Price.
We also have created a #LovePASJ Legacy Fund as an endowment piece to help fund, beyond our Cooperative Program giving, church health, compassion ministry, Next Gen ministry, church planting and other needs across the BRN. In essence, this fund will help us resource churches that want to move forward in their mission for Christ.
There is so much that I want to share. You will be hearing more about some other upcoming conferences on our weekly e-newsletter BRN United. We’re birthing an Evangelism Conference called Advance in the Spring of 2020 (see back cover of your program, a Youth or Next Gen Evangelism Conference is being planned for June of 2020, and if God wills, another ReFresh-type conference called Keep the Fires Burning, perhaps in April of next year.
I’ll end by saying that I’m so glad we have our weekly E-newsletter (BRN United) and this 96-page program (thanks, Shannon) to help share ministry reports and some of the great things that have been happening and will be occurring across the BRN. I hope and pray you will take the time to review BRN United and this program that has been provided for you. If there is anything we can ever do for you, please let us know. You can always reach us through the helpdesk that we’ve created, either through email (email@example.com) or by phone, 717-542-3297. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please remember today that our vision is to see your church, all churches, become a healthy multiplying church; a church that reproduces disciples, leaders, new ministries and new churches. Our mission is to help your church accelerate towards seeing that kind of Kingdom movement for the glory and praise of God.
Along with our team, we restate, it is our privilege and joy to serve you. My prayer is that we will always firmly decide to move interdependently together to accomplish reaching 14 million who do not yet know Jesus across PA and SJ.
Thank you for being here, and for being a wonderful group of churches and Christ-followers in PA/SJ.
God bless you all!
Barry E Whitworth
Executive Director, BRN PA/SJ