HARRISBURG, Pa. (BRN) — Messengers to the 2019 annual meeting of the Baptist Resource Network (BRN) of Pennsylvania/South Jersey heard a challenge for 2020, celebrated 2019 accomplishments, increased their Cooperative Program giving to SBC causes, and elected a new slate of officers, among other business.

This year’s meeting, attended by 189 messengers and 87 guests representing 107 of 311 active BRN churches (plus a combined reach of nearly 1,000 through its livestream), was held Nov. 7-8 at the Radisson Harrisburg Hotel in Camp Hill, Pa.

Executive Director Report

In his report, BRN Executive Director Barry Whitworth issued a “10/5 Challenge,” urging 50 churches to “step out and get on the move” as the BRN closes out 50 years of ministry and sets the stage for the next 50 years of ministry within Pennsylvania/South Jersey.

In that effort, Whitworth urged 50 BRN churches to become involved in five areas: healthy churches, church multiplication, compassion ministry, collegiate ministry, and international missions.

The 10/5 challenge is “to help inspire churches to move beyond where they are, to become healthier by doing something they’ve never done before, in order to reach more and more people for Christ,” Whitworth said.

In his ministry report, Whitworth shared several notable accomplishments from 2019.

“Our team works tirelessly, sometimes more hours than they should, only to give their best to serve our churches throughout the BRN,” he said, noting the BRN staff has connected with 100% of BRN churches, in over 4,800 connections this year.

Through September, the BRN distributed 117 evangelism and ministry grants to BRN churches, which represents a 40% increase over 2018 grant distribution, and the number of churches who took the Spiritual Health Assessment are up 50% this year.

Several BRN Initiatives launched previously are gaining momentum, he reported, including work in racial reconciliation, compassion ministry, disaster relief, and multiplying churches.

In a panel discussion on racial reconciliation moderated by Larry Anderson (center), director of healthy churches for the Baptist Resource Network, participants expressed excitement over a joint effort to reach Strawberry Mansion, an underprivileged neighborhood in Philadelphia. Photo by Shannon Baker

Efforts in racial reconciliation in Philadelphia have led to a coalition of 12-15 men (African American and Anglo) who have met over the past year and recently joined forces to reach one of the city’s underprivileged neighborhoods, Strawberry Mansion.

In a separate panel discussion about the efforts, participants expressed excitement over the opportunity as well as the healing they’ve experienced as they listened to one another. Currently, a similar cohort is being convened in Pittsburgh, and new cohorts among other ethnic groups are being started in Philadelphia.

Regarding compassion ministry, a Send Relief center was launched last month in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh through NAMB and Vintage Church. Also, preliminary plans are being made for a Compassion Center in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in Philadelphia.

Through their own Pennsylvania Emergency Management Association (PEMA) VALOR Program, Pennsylvania’s state government is utilizing the BRN fiducially to help provide financial assistance for disaster relief to help those who have been impacted by recent disasters. In other words, “we have partnered with our own PA state government to help enhance this work!” Whitworth exclaimed.

The BRN has relaunched, under Cliff Jenkins’ leadership, the Multiplying Church Network (MC2). Twice this year, over 20 pastors gathered to discuss and train with one another on how to go deeper in their efforts to multiply churches. In addition, the BRN launched SEND PA/SJ, which highlights and elevates church planting throughout all of PA and SJ, not just within the two Send cities. Joe Velarde of Riverbend Community Church, Allentown, Pa., will champion this endeavor through NAMB.

The BRN also has a new website, www.brnunited.org, as well as continued work among women, ethnic churches, collegiate ministry and more, Whitworth said.

He also reported that Cooperative Program (CP) giving alone was up 13%, giving the BRN another record year in missions giving. Nearly $650,000 dollars was given in the most recent SBC fiscal year to CP, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions, and the BRN’s state missions offering, he said.

“Thank you so much for giving so sacrificially to support these offerings. This giving truly reflects our desire as Baptists to be interdependent of one another, and not independent in how we function and cooperate together,” Whitworth affirmed. “I’m praying that 2020, as we celebrate our 50th year of existence, we will see another record year of giving for the cause of expanding the gospel here (PA/SJ), in North America, and all around the world.”

Whitworth commended the messengers, who in less than three years’ time, have voted to increase Cooperative Program giving to worldwide efforts by four percent. The 2020 budget passed by messengers included another one percent increase of Cooperative Program giving passed on beyond PA/SJ.

Featured Presentations

Pointing to the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14ff, George Tynes, pastor of Truth Baptist Church in Philadelphia, exhorted his listeners to be faithful.

“One of the things that God prioritizes … is that we would be faithful,” said Tynes. “What we do matters. What we do counts.”

He stressed, “Our witness is important to the world. If our gospel is here, it is here for those who are lost. We are valuable to Him and valuable to His agenda.”

Tynes, acknowledging the difficulties ministers face, urged them on, “Now some of you have come here with tears in your eyes. You’re going through struggles. You’re going through storms; you’re going through challenges in your life. It’s a test of whether or not you’re going to stay. It’s a test of whether or not you’re going to be faithful.”

But with the Master’s gifts, expectations and confirmation, they can be faithful.

“God’s got something wonderful waiting for those that are faithful,” he encouraged.

Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, compared the apostle Paul’s plight in Acts 18 to what many of the leaders and pastors in the room were experiencing. Paul was emotionally discouraged, and he was physically exhausted, but his heart was to share Jesus with more people. Don’t quit! he said. Photo by Shannon Baker

In his address, NAMB President Kevin Ezell said the best way to reach North America is by planting churches. Even so, referencing Acts 18, he noted the apostle Paul had to be disappointed with the ongoing issues and lackluster results he was encountering as he attempted to start churches.

But he was determined to preach Jesus, said Ezell, comparing Paul’s plight to what many of the leaders and pastors in the room were experiencing. Paul was emotionally discouraged, and he was physically exhausted, but his heart was to share Jesus with more people, he said.

In the passage, God speaks through a vision to tell Paul to not be afraid. “When things don’t go like what we think, it is scary, but God is telling you to stop being afraid! We are in this together. We don’t just want to grow churches; we want to reach a city!”

God continues to tell Paul to not quit. In fact, he commands Paul not to be silent or to stop speaking, Ezell said. “We can keep going because God is with us. If God is with us, it changes everything!”

In another annual meeting segment, Velarde moderated a panel discussion on multiplying churches. There, Kyle Canty, Send Philadelphia missionary, argued that there is no urgency to multiply because Christians “believe we’re still in Christendom. There is no eagerness to go after the lost, because we think that nothing is wrong. We think it is good enough that the same people go to church. We need to wake up!”

On the panel, NAMB’s Ezell told a story about a pastor who was lamenting that his church was not growing, but he had planted 27 churches in 17 years.

“We must resist the gravitational pull back toward scoring ourselves on our seating capacity instead of our sending capacity,” Ezell said. “When we stand before God, He will measure how Kingdom-minded we were.”

In his address, Whitworth lamented the rising number of “nones” (those unaffiliated with any organized religion).

“My gear is locked in forward, and my mindset in ministry, because of the evangelical need around us, is full throttle, wide open,” he said, noting churches close their doors because of their failure to reach the next generation.

“Many assume that if we ‘dig in,’ ‘hold on,’ and ‘stay true’ to what we’ve known and have always practiced, things will change. That is not going to happen,” he stressed. “In order to have an impact in the future, every generation has to figure out how to willfully pass the torch on to the next generation.”

In a related panel discussion about millennial ministry, participant Autumn Miller, campus minister at Penn State University in State College, sought to dispel the myth that millennials are lazy and do not work hard.

When millennials were young, the message they always received was that they could do anything they wanted when they grew up, she explained. Instead of empowering them though, she felt this actually made them feel unsure.

“When we find what we are passionate about, we will give it everything we can,” she exclaimed.

IMB missionary David McNeill, from Bogota, Colombia, with whom the BRN has a mission partnership, told messengers there are only 12 Baptist churches among the 10 million people who live in his city. He urged churches to consider participating in a future mission trip, of which two are currently being organized (in March and September 2020).

Business Session

During a brief business session, messengers approved a $3,012,000 budget, which includes an anticipated $1,168,000 in Cooperative Program receipts from churches; $332,000 in special offerings (Annie Armstrong, Lottie Moon, State Missions, and Global Hunger Relief); $1,300,000 from the North American Mission Board; and $212,000 in other income. This represents a 0.35 percent increase in total budget.

The budget allocates 30 percent of 2020 CP receipts to SBC national and international missions and ministries, up from 29 percent in 2019 (and from 26.3 percent in 2017). The remaining 70 percent will go toward Pennsylvania/South Jersey missions and ministries. The budget does not include any shared ministry expenses.

Messengers also approved revisions to the current BRN Constitution & Bylaws, which brings the documents up to date with current laws concerning non-profits, streamlines the BRN operations, and clearly articulates that the BRN Policies & Procedures Manual will be the guide for the BRN administrative and operational duties.

Additionally, messengers were presented with a statement in support of the prevention of abuse and for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults that was approved and adopted by the BRN’s Executive Board earlier in the year.

This statement encourages all churches affiliated with the BRN to develop and implement plans to prevent abuse of minors and vulnerable adults within the ministries of the church, including being in full compliance with state laws; to educate and raise awareness of the seriousness of abuse within the ministries of the church; to minister and care for those affected by abuse; and to diligently guard those whom God has given them for the purpose of ministry.

Messengers unanimously elected the following 2020 BRN officers: Chris “Buff” McNickle, pastor of Grace Falls Church in Absecon, N.J., president; John Weathersby, pastor of Transcend Church in Harrisburg, Pa., vice president; and Jennifer Musser, community engagement director at ChoiceOne Pregnancy and Sexual Health Resource Centers, and wife of Brian Musser, collegiate minister at Drexel University in Philadelphia, secretary.

The 2020 BRN annual meeting, with the theme “Kingdom Vision” based on Revelation 7:9, is scheduled for Nov. 5-6 at the Radisson Hotel in Harrisburg, Pa.