Fred Hewett, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, and Randy Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, signed their names to the document, pledging continued interest in missions and ministries in each other's state.
A similar ceremony is slated for the Tennessee Baptist Convention's Nov. 9-10 meeting in Knoxville.
"Over the last five years Tennessee churches have been a great blessing to our churches," Hewett said. "It's time for us to begin giving back to them. We look forward to expanding our partnership over the next three years."
Davis, who took the helm for Tennessee Baptists in June after 34 years in the pastorate, recalled preaching in Montana 25 years ago in a church that met in a Masonic lodge.
"What we're doing today brings joy to the journey," Davis said. "Three years is the officially extended covenant, but I have a feeling we'll be partnering together until eternity."
Montana's annual meeting, which included messages by Davis and Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, celebrated a series of successes across the state since last November.
With "The Next Step" as its theme, Montana's annual meeting showcased the way churches, associations, pastors, church planters and the Montana Southern Baptist Convention network to accomplish the Great Commission goal of "sharing the good news of Jesus where we live and work, worship and play."
Mark Langley, leader of the Montana convention's Strengthening Churches Team, introduced four pastors who recounted how their churches had grown. "We've got the churches to reach Montana," Langley said. "God is already at work.... The harvest is where we get the benefits of God."
First Baptist Church in Three Forks, Mont., baptized 17 people within the last year, Langley said. Meadow View Community Church in Missoula baptized 19 within the past month.
"It has been a year of great blessings," Hewett said in his executive director's report. "Everywhere I traveled this year, I heard our pastors saying the same thing: 'Our baptisms are up.'"
Dave Howeth, leader of the Starting Churches Team, said he is focused on starting churches that start churches -- congregations designed to be the hub of a wheel, reaching out with church-planting initiatives that, like spokes, touch places that become hubs of new church-planting efforts.
Pam Smith, leader of the convention's Sending Churches Team, described ways Montanans are becoming lifestyle missionaries, including 16 people from the state who became self-funded Mission Service Corps missionaries within the past year under the North American Mission Board, and the 21 people from Montana already serving overseas as missionaries.
Hewett, who was elected as executive director/treasurer in 2008, praised Montana Baptists for continuing to give in spite of the national economic slowdown.
"Most of our churches are feeling the pinch of this reality," Hewett said. "However, I want to commend you for your faithfulness in these challenging days. You continue to sacrificially give to the glory of God. One pastor recently told me August was the best month ever for giving in his church.
"Because of your faithfulness, we are staying afloat in a difficult financial year," Hewett continued. "We are squeezing every penny we can to be good stewards of the money you entrust to us."
The 2011 budget, reduced by $17,282 to $1,501,930 -- was passed without discussion by 81 messengers from 66 of Montana's 130 Southern Baptist churches and missions. This follows a $22,899 decrease in the 2009 budget.
Income in 2011 is projected to be $460,000 from Montana churches, $65,000 from Montana associations, $903,252 from the North American Mission Board, $65,000 from LifeWay Christian Resources and $7,500 from interest/dividend income.
The percentage of Cooperative Program dollars leaving the state for SBC causes remains at 22 percent -- unchanged since Montana became a fellowship in 1989.
Montana has given more than $5 million to missions through the Cooperative Program, announced Bob Rodgers, vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship with the SBC Executive Committee.
Hewett also noted another challenge Montana Baptists engaged this past year.
"The second great challenge we faced this year arose from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations, which were adopted at the SBC national meeting in June," Hewett said. "The North American Mission Board will redesign our partnership relationship in an effort to help us become highly effective Great Commission churches. This is consistent with our strategy, and we look forward to their help in the future.
In his first sermon before the gathering, Patterson also spoke about denominational issues.
"The SBC voted in a vast period of instability," the seminary president said. "If you stop at chapters 2 and 3 you're looking at the wrong thing. The Scripture says, 'After these things.' After the church things, we'll experience the heaven things." He encouraged Montana Baptists to focus on "heaven things" and to acquire a thirst for God, to approach God closely enough to inhale His sweet-smelling savor. "Don't worry about all the stuff out there," Patterson counseled.
Roy Spannagel, regional team leader for the North American Mission Board's Cooperative Strategies Team, told the assembly: "The North American Mission Board will continue to be a great partner with Montana. We know the West has to be impacted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
The NAMB representative spoke from John 9:1-4, reminding his listeners that "God knows where you are." He suggested they ask God, "In the midst of this difficult situation, how do You want to reveal Yourself to me?" He acknowledged the anxiety many Southern Baptists are feeling about the anticipated changes at the mission board by saying, "We have lots of anxious moments. It's too soon to tell" what the future holds.
William Johnson, pastor of Gallatin Valley Baptist Fellowship in Manhattan, was re-elected without opposition for a second term as president. Carl Wood, a layman from First Southern Baptist Church in Great Falls, was re-elected without opposition for a second term as vice president.
The 2011 annual meeting of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention will be Oct. 5-6 at Yellowstone Baptist College in Billings.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of The Montana Baptist (www.mtsbc.org) and the Louisiana Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com).
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