Good morning, and again welcome to the Accelerate Conference!
Accelerate is designed to help encourage and motivate pastors and churches to move forward in the mission God has called them to do. Accelerate is derived from our mission strategy (pg. 36 in your program) which simply communicates that our mission at the BRN is to “help churches accelerate Kingdom movement.”
Most people like to accelerate. I can remember as a boy, and as a teenager, that there wasn’t anything more exhilarating than to crank up the throttle on a mini-bike, tractor, and eventually my first car. There is nothing like the feeling of “stepping on it.”
Acceleration is movement. Movement is defined as the act, process, or results of moving. Movement is a sign of life. When a baby is born, the first thing you expect to see is movement and breathing from their body. When a calf is born, it needs to stand up and move in order to survive. If a human body refuses to move, it begins its journey towards death. We were designed to move the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We are designed to accelerate for Jesus!
My greatest hope for the Baptist Resource Network (BRN) is that we are a resource to help accelerate Kingdom movement amongst our churches. We are Baptist in doctrine, we are autonomously and interdependently networked together, but most of all the BRN is commissioned by you to be a resource for your church.
Our mission strategy that was finalized recently all points to helping pastors and churches move towards to what they believe Jesus desires for them to do next. Our resourcing begins at the point where we yearn to help a pastor/church assess where they are (health stage), assist them to where they believe Jesus wants them to go next, help them activate that step or dream, and then encourage them to activate God’s movement within His Kingdom work.
We are very encouraged to see this strategy beginning to unfold, and we are optimistic that it will bring us to the vision that we hope and believe we will see one day across the BRN; “Every Church a Healthy, Multiplying Church.” Just this year, really within the last seven months, we have had 140 conversations with churches about their identifying and beginning to take a next step within their ministry.
Almost 30 BRN churches have already completed the next step they acknowledged they wanted to take. This is a huge celebration, because this puts us on track to hopefully assist 150 churches to have completed their next step by the end of 2025. This is movement, and this is what we are designed and commissioned to accomplish. We have spent a lot of hours creating pathways to help a church move towards greater vitality and vivaciousness for the sake and cause of our King. We want you to know that no matter where you find yourselves as it relates to your current church health condition, we want to show you we care, help provide you a pathway for growth, and are willing and ready to assist you in taking your next step towards health.
In my time this morning, I want to convey some things that we are seeking to do in 2023 that we believe will help accelerate movement within churches.
The first is we are providing breakouts today to help encourage and inspire you on how we can all be healthier in showing and sharing the love of Jesus Christ. We encourage you to go to these breakouts to hear from these passionate and qualified leaders. You can find the description of these breakouts in your program today.
In the spring, on March 20th, we will have our second Advance Evangelism Conference at Calvary Church in State College, and you can see the speakers and focus for that conference on the back of your program. You can actually start registering today for that conference.
Today, we are emphasizing how we can better show and share the love of Jesus Christ to our neighbors. As you can see this year’s theme for Accelerate is “Show: Who is On Your Watch?” One way the BRN wants to help show love today is to help provide pastors and churches resources to effectively show and share Christ’s love within their community.
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 that on average, every 4 minutes and 20 seconds someone dies without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
In my address time today, seven people will have perished without Christ and spend a hopeless eternity without him.
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. Why do we share this information with you? It is to get us focused on the urgency of our time. People are perishing without Jesus; the very mission Jesus wants us to change.
With this type of urgency, we want to ask the question to everyone in this room today, “Who’s on your watch? Who is around you that has no hope outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ?” Today, we are providing you a second kit of resources to hopefully equip you to show and share Christ’s love within your community. Last year, we gave away 111 Phase 1 “KNOW” kits that provided resources to churches for exegeting and praying walking their community. In our Phase 2 “SHOW” kit (pp. 38-39 in the program) are resources that include Compassion Ministry Planning Guides, A Prayer Guide, Small Group Bible Study, Evangelism Tracts, a Sample EvangeCube, a Gospel Presentation App (pg. 21) and more.
This “SHOW” kit of resources is being provided to help you be most effective in showing and sharing Christ love through your church. It was not developed just for the pastor to implement another program in his church (like I shared last year). It was developed so that pastors can encourage their church body to utilize the resources within the kit to effectively show and share Jesus Christ with their neighbors.
It still is true, five people sharing and loving people to Jesus is greater than nobody sharing and showing the love of Christ to people. The end game is changing the scorecard of lostness; 14 million is way too many people on the road to hell without Christ. Every pastor and/or church that takes a kit today, and signs up on the website as being a church utilizing the kit, will be able to access for FREE all these resources online. You will be able to obtain more of these resources at lovepasj.com. We believe the contents of this kit could help any member within the body of Christ to effectively show the love of Christ and share the Gospel with their neighbors. The kits are in the hallway for you to take home today. Please grab one before you go. If you need help or want more information about the “SHOW” kit, call or text the Help Desk at (717) 652-5856.
Also today, we are launching a resource to potentially help you gather future financial resources for your church, and hopefully for churches across the BRN. The BRN has created a partnership with Chuck Knox, the Stewardship Coach from Harvest Church in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, to assist our churches in legacy giving. Chuck communicates that many people do not have wills. He further communicates that when someone dies they can only leave their assets to one of three places: with family/friends, ministry, or the government. The last place that I think we all would agree is that we do not want to leave anything to the government. Chuck is prepared to help your church to understand how they can be both generous to their family and to Kingdom ministry. Chuck is available to be a resource for you; he will be at the Legacy Giving exhibit today.
We also want people to be aware of the #LovePASJ Legacy Fund. The BRN is seeking to acquire financial resources to help churches accomplish their next steps and mission. A Case Statement entitled #GivePASJ Legacy Giving (in your packet) explains how we are seeking to build a strong endowment through Ministry Trust, our financial partner from Georgia. Ministry Trust (who is here today in the exhibits), helps provide guidance to assist us in accomplishing and achieving our strategic initiatives, which are to service and resource churches in the years to come. We believe it is decent and godly stewardship to leave a legacy of resources to help our churches be successful in accomplishing their mission. If you have questions, text or call the Help Desk at (717) 652-5856.
We will continue in the year to come to have “next step” conversations with pastors. We no longer have quick gimmicks or remedies for declining health. We no longer are in the business of selling or encouraging programs. We want to help every pastor identify where their church currently is, and service them to go to where they believe Jesus is taking them next. When they’ve identified what is next, we want to be prepared to help resource their next move and eventually encourage them to advance that within the Kingdom. The journey to health is movement, and we want to help a pastor and his church take that step. Whatever support you need, whenever you need assistance in taking that step, we want to help. Just call or text the Help Desk at (717) 652-5856.
This next item brings great excitement for me to share with you today. Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” 1 Thess. 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
We’ve been asking the question, “What are some ways that we can build up pastors, and show them that we love and support them?” 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. This wellness program has been endorsed and funded through the Executive Board of the BRN. This program uses resources gifted to the BRN, and it uses minimal Cooperative Program dollars.
Why do we believe a Pastoral Wellness Program is needed?
Here are some things we know:
- There is a reality in life; hurting people hurt others. Pastors are constantly dealing with hurting people, and some pastors and their wives are hurting because people have hurt them.
- 75-80% of pastors are currently experiencing burnout.
- 80% of pastors believe that ministry has been harmful to their families.
- Most pastor’s wives have nobody to talk to, and very few friends to listen to them.
- 71% of pastors say they are constantly fighting depression.
- 1,700 pastors are leaving the ministry every month.
- In 2021, 1 of 10 pastors contemplated committing suicide.
The wellness program that we are unveiling today is meant to help change these statistics and to elevate the value and personhood of pastors, their wives, and their families across the BRN. You can see this program described on pp. 40-41 of your program.
The wellness program we are launching today will include these components to help strengthen our pastors and their families.
1. RECREATION. Every pastor needs recreation. Our team is offering, and will be offering, “Pastors Blessings” to allow our pastors, pastors and pastors’ wives, and sometimes pastors’ and their families opportunities to have fun and recreation with other pastors and pastors’ families. We’ve been doing some of this for a little over a year, and we want to do more. We want you to have space to have fun. And, we are open to your ideas for how we can help you relax and have fun outside of your ministry context. How do I get involved in a Pastors Blessing? Contact your regional consultant, or call or text the Help Desk at (717) 652-5856. We want you to have fun, and we want to provide it for you.
2. RESPITE (Rest). Every pastor needs to rest. The BRN has several places where we can help provide you rest. These are places you can get away and rest at no cost to you. One of the main resources we currently use is the newly renovated Guest House in Harrisburg. This house has been set aside mainly for pastors and their wives to use. We’ve already had over 15 couples use this resource to help them unplug and find rest. Our two mission houses, free of charge (newly renovate in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh), are available for pastors and their families to use. And, we are currently lining up other resources in our two-state area to make them available for you. How do I access these resources? Call or text the Help Desk at (717) 652-5856.
3. REASSURANCE. Every pastor needs reassurance. When a pastor in BRN is enrolled in Guidestone Financial Resources and the church or pastor is contributing at least $50 a month to a retirement plan, the BRN’s partnership with Guidestone helps provide free life insurance, free disability insurance, and supplemental funds towards retirement for all pastors of a BRN cooperating church. When a church gives at least $1,000 a year to the Cooperative Program through the BRN, per participant, and their pastor is enrolled in Guidestone, it helps a pastor be a recipient to everything afforded to them in this program. Just this year, we saw families receive life insurance, disability insurance, and Mission Dignity resources because their churches were connected to Guidestone through the BRN. Guidestone, I am told, beginning next year, will also be enhancing Pastoral Wellness through their partnerships with state conventions.
4. RESTRENGTHENING. Every pastor needs to be restrengthened. Through a brand new partnership with Full Strength Network, a network that exists to help ministry leaders discover full-strength in wellbeing, the BRN is providing to every Senior, Associate, or Campus pastor and their family, every North American Mission Board funded church planter and their family, every NAMB endorsed collegiate minister and their family, and every PA/SJ NAMB Missionary and BRN Team member and their families FREE counseling and coaching over the next three years (repeat). That amounts to 12 sessions of either coaching or counseling provided to a pastor and 12 sessions for their family per year over the next three years. Bryan Stine is here today representing Full Strength Network. We believe this resource can and will be a game changer for our pastors. Also, a pastor can choose from a compiled list of 120 retreat places across the country that Full Strength has identified as being friendly towards pastors. Some of these are complimentary, some ask for a donation, and some have heavily reduced rates. So, please here what I’ve said: every pastor and his family will be provided, for three years, free coaching and counseling by a nationally reputable ministry for you, and access to a pastoral retreat center.
What do I have to do to get this resource? Sign-up now! Use the QR code on the screen (link). I am so delighted that this program officially kicks off today. It is my hope that every pastor feels valued and loved, an that there are ways and means to help them get full-strength in doing what God has called them to do. I am grateful to our Executive Board for wholeheartedly backing this initiative, and God-willing I am looking and dreaming for more ways to grow this wellness program. If you have any questions, please see Bryan today, or call or text the Help Desk at (717) 652-5856. But, above all, sign-up now, again this is ALL FREE! Use the QR code provided on the screen.
And, we’re already working to add a fifth component to the Pastoral Wellness Program, ReFresh – A Pastoral Encouragement Conference. During COVID and due to Pastor Catt’s retiring from Sherwood Baptist Church, we lost the well-loved ReFresh Conference that took place in the Amish Country every year. The good news is that the North American Mission Board (NAMB) is bringing back ReFresh!
Dr. Kevin Ezell recently communicated to me that NAMB would be bringing it back to the Northeast. I am currently in dialogue with Dr. Tim Dowdy, Vice President of Evangelism at NAMB, to bring this back to PA/SJ, hopefully as soon as Spring 2024. We know how much this conference meant to our pastors in the past, and how this brought a sense of refreshment to them and their ministries, so we are pursuing bringing this back for you. Stay tuned!
Next, the hope of tomorrow always lies in the Next Generation. The Bible says in Psalm 145:4: “One generation shall praise Your works to another.” Two truths ring true in the church today; the failure to reach the next generation will insure the failure of reaching future generations. And, whoever wants the next generation the most, will get them. If we are going to be serious about reaching the next generation then we need to be ready and willing to do whatever it takes to win that generation.
We are delighted to have Shane Pruitt, our keynote speaker today, who is the Next Generation Director for the North American Mission Board. Shane has invested his life in communicating to a younger generation their need for Christ. Today, we are going to glean from him truths that I hope will help us develop a passion to show and share the love of Christ to people, and especially the next generation.
Also, under the leadership of Rev. Stanley Williams, our Next Gen Director in the BRN, Stan is organizing his team of Campus/Collegiate Ministers to cultivate a Youth or Next Gen Evangelism Conference in the late spring of next year. This conference will be centered on reaching and discipling young people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The conference will be called Amplify, and it will be complementary to what we already doing through our Accelerate and Advance conferences across the BRN.
Our desire is to fuel our Next Gen ministry, by helping them with evangelism and discipleship development on their campuses, by strengthening and broadening their collegiate footprint across the BRN, and by helping them reach into the younger generation through a newly designed youth conference called Amplify. Today we move to build on making a deeper investment in reaching one of the largest unreached people groups in PA and SJ, the collegiate and high school population. I would ask you as a church, to consider how you can help our collegiate ministers and Next Gen ministry make a strong impact in your area. Please encourage your teenagers to get involved with Amplify when it comes around in the late spring of 2023. If you are interested in investing in next gen ministry, please text or call us and let us know at 717-652-5856.
Finally, I want to speak to the challenges we face as Southern or Great Commission Baptists. 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. Baptists are somehow notorious for either working our way out of battle, or fighting in some way to get into a battle. Why do we do that? What draws us to this type of behavior? What is the matter with us that we are prone to fight against one another?
Well, I don’t know the full answer to all these types of questions, but I do think that the answer to what cripples us at times ultimately lies in whether or not we seek to first and foremost be Kingdom people. I have always believed that the answer to our greatest problems is wrapped up in our ability or inability to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). People and pastors ask me all the time, “What do you think about what is going on in the SBC?” “What should we do about 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. We weren’t created as a church to battle ourselves, and to live and function independent from one another; we were made to live interdependently and lovingly amongst ourselves, to show a lost world that we are a family that knows how to love and serve through our King, Jesus Christ.
We weren’t created as a church to battle ourselves, and to live and function independent from one another; we were made to live interdependently and lovingly amongst ourselves, to show a lost world that we are a family that knows how to love and serve through our King, Jesus Christ.
This is what binds us together for the sake of His mission. What I have learned in my Christian walk is the best remedy to squelch all this mess is to live in the fullness of who Jesus is. This means I live a life that is described in John 1:14, a life “full of truth and grace.” Anything less misses the mark, anything less finds me acting and living either like a legalist or a liberal. I am asking all of us today, those of us in this room and those watching and listening online, for us to reflect together the character of our King in all we do in PA and SJ. Anything less is sin, and anything less is shameful.
We want you to know that within the BRN we’ve created safeguards in our policies and operations to help preserve and protect the testimony of our institution and the people who are associated with our work. In order to help elevate trust, 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. Let’s show those around us this type of character so that they would want to receive the love that we show them through Christ. Let’s do it for the people who are dying every 4.2 minutes without Jesus. Let’s do it for the millions who don’t see or know Christ love. Let’s do it for the sake of reaching the next generation. Let’s do it for those on our watch. Paul’s challenge to the church at Corinth was to “awake to righteousness, and do not sin” (1 Corinthians 15:34).
As I close, and in light of what I just shared with you, it is my desire for you to reflect on these three questions:
1. How can the BRN support me and my church? 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
2. What is the next step Jesus is asking me to take? “The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives” (Psalm 37:23).
3. Who’s on my watch? “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).
Thank you for kind attention today, enjoy the conference, and thank you for allowing me the privilege to serve as your Executive Director. God bless you all!
Barry E. Whitworth
Executive Director, BRN of PASJ