This year's meeting of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) drew 269 messengers and 73 guests to Ogletown Baptist Church in Newark, Del. The theme was "Gather2Scatter," based on Acts 8:4.
Messengers voted to add content to their constitution regarding marriage. The new content stated the convention will "subscribe to the tenets of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) as adopted by the SBC, in its most recent form. In Article 18 of BFM when marriage is referred to, we believe that term 'marriage' has only one meaning and that is marriage sanctioned by God which joins one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture. We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to only occur between a man and a woman who are married to each other...."
Messengers also added content to Article VII Section 6 of its bylaws. The new content states that "No action of this Convention will be construed as authorizing its committees or related agencies to take any action that may be contrary to the law, unless such laws are contrary to the convention's statement of faith. Specifically, the Convention will not solemnize any same-sex marriage or allow any Convention property or facilities to be used for the purpose of solemnizing or celebrating any same-sex marriage."
This year's featured speakers included: James Merritt, former Southern Baptist Convention president and senior pastor of Cross Pointe Church, Duluth, Ga.; A.B. Vines, senior pastor of New Seasons Church, Spring Valley, Ca.; Robert Anderson, senior pastor of Colonial Baptist Church and BCM/D president; Jose Nater, senior pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana, Cambridge; and Will McRaney, the convention's new executive missional strategist.
In addition to re-electing Anderson, messengers also elected the following officers: Stephen Hokuf, pastor of First Baptist Church of North East, first vice president; Randall Blackmon, pastor of Faith Fellowship Church, Cambridge, second vice president; David Gaines, pastor of Manna Bible Baptist Church, Baltimore, recording secretary; and Aaron Stewart, minister of music at Towne Baptist Church, Joppa, assistant recording secretary.
Messengers approved a combined BCM/D and Skycroft Conference Center budget of $8,088,057 for 2014 during the Nov. 10-12 meeting. The BCM/D budget is $6,078,040 and the Skycroft budget is $2,010,017. The 2014 combined budget is a 1.4 percent increase above this year's budget, due to an increase in conference center receipts.
The 2014 budget incorporates no change from the 2013 budget regarding the percentage of CP dollars leaving Maryland/Delaware for Southern Baptist Convention causes. The proposed percentage split for next year remains at 56.5 percent staying in Maryland/Delaware and 43.5 percent leaving the two-state convention.
James Merritt brought the Sunday evening message. He said Jesus lived only 33 years, and He did more in three years of ministry than anyone has ever done.
Merritt referenced Luke 5 and asked the crowd how a carpenter could tell a professional fisherman where to catch more fish. Because Jesus made the lake, he responded. There's a difference between fishing and catching fish, Merritt added. The real fisherman knows where to find fish.
The United States is dealing with a missing person epidemic, Merritt continued. Every hour, adults and children will go missing –- 900,000 people are reported missing each year, he said. That's why the "America's Missing Broadcast Emergency Response" (AMBER) Alert was established.
"God has an AMBER Alert for every lost person on this planet," Merritt said.
Monday morning's activities began with a variety of brunches for pastors, ministers, ministers' wives and lay leaders, followed by a Crossover Baltimore lunch, and more than 20 breakout sessions over a three-hour period.
A.B. Vines, senior pastor of New Seasons Church in Spring Valley, Ca., shared Matthew 6:24-27 during his message. "Worry is a costly consequence of choosing self," he said.
When pastors get together, Vines said, they generally ask each other how their churches are doing numerically. "How about asking, 'Where is Jesus moving in your ministries this year?" he said. "Preachers, stop stressing about numbers, deacon boards ... let God be God and do your part."
Vines said churches often put their faith in programs. "We forget God can do it all by Himself."
Will McRaney, executive missional strategist, shared his message which emphasized "the ultimate act of love is sharing Christ."
He referred to Acts 3:1-10 and the account of Peter and John ministering to the lame beggar in the temple. McRaney asked, "How many people are we walking by and not even seeing?"
McRaney said Christians must see the lost, engage them, prepare for them and connect them to Jesus and to other believers.
"If we're not careful, we get tied up doing religious stuff and miss what we're supposed to be doing in the first place," McRaney said.
Anderson, BCM/D president, gave his address that focused on Luke 14, the passage on the great banquet. He noted that God was the host of the banquet, but invited guests began giving excuses for why they could not attend. They were busy with wealth, with work and with family, he said.
God will not take excuses, Anderson said. "God does get angry. The Lord is angry at the wicked every day.
"There's still room ... the invitations are out," he added. "The banquet table is set."
During the business session, messengers voted to release Baptist Family and Children's Services (BFCS) from their status as a BCM/D agency and voted to make the necessary change in the convention's constitution. General Mission Board President Kerry Hinton said the agency has been working to acquire its individual 501c3 status for several years.
Sandy Wehunt, president of the BFCS board, said the non-profit, like most non-profits, is "suffering financially." She asked messengers to "join us to move ahead as God has called us to do."
Harold Phillips, senior pastor of Pleasant View Baptist Church, Port Deposit, Md., expressed concerns about the move during the meeting. "Why do we want to relinquish this very valuable ministry we have had for 90 years?" Phillips asked.
Bob Gerstmyer, former BFCS director, replied that the convention has given approximately $22,000 a year to the non-profit for the past 15 to 20 years. While a generous amount, that amount still represents less than 1 percent of the annual operations budget, he said.
"I have mixed feelings about this," Gerstmyer said. "I am a Maryland/Delaware convention advocate and have been since 1969 when I began my ministry. From that perspective, it's sad to see that happen. On the other hand, I understand why the agency is proceeding in this matter, and I would be supportive."
Wehunt said the agency will remain Baptist. "We see this as a door opening and an opportunity to serve God in a more effective way," he said.
During the agency's report, Debbie Marini, Baptist Family and Children's Services' interim director, thanked churches for their support. She shared her passion for families and the agency's commitment to grow as a Christian organization.
"We recognize change can raise questions," Marini said. "God is the same yesterday, today and forever."
Messengers also voted to approve selling land held by the BCM/D in St. Mary's County for a sale price of $450,000 and to allow the General Mission Board to entertain a viable offer. An adjustment greater than a reduction of $50,000 in list price would be brought to the Administrative Committee for approval. Proceeds from the sale would be used to fund church wellness initiatives.
Convention missionary Randy Millwood explained there are support streams for work in evangelism and church multiplication but little in church wellness. "This initiative speaks to implementing long-term turn around strategies for churches in plateau and decline," Millwood said.
In addition to the Baptist Family & Children's Services' report, John Schoff, president of the Baptist Foundation of Maryland/Delaware, reported that the Foundation manages assets of almost $10.4 million. Through the church loan program, 21 BCM/D churches are being assisted with more than $3.1 million in loans. The Foundation makes an annual distribution to BCM/D to start and strengthen churches.
Schoff presented a check to McRaney, executive missional strategist, for $145,054.94.
Melody Knox, Woman's Missionary Union's (WMU) interim executive director, and Barbara Matney, WMU's newly elected president, presented the WMU report.
As WMU celebrates its 125th birthday, Matney shared how a small group of women formed WMU to work alongside the Southern Baptist Convention, and one of those women was Annie Armstrong. Matney said Maryland/Delaware was one of the first sites to join and start WMU. "We have a rich heritage in missions and sharing the Gospel," she said.
WMU has seen successful ministries throughout the year including mother/daughter camps, Royal Ambassador camps and the distribution of health kits. WMU has also worked with Samaritan Women to help women escape human trafficking, and held women's conferences, including "Breathless."
Messengers approved a resolution related to the church and the abuse of children. The resolution refers to Psalm 127:3-5 and affirms that children are a gift from God and that Jesus demonstrated His love for children. It states that sexual abuse remains an ever-increasing criminal offense, and tragically, instances of sexual abuse have occurred within Southern Baptist congregations and churches of other denominations and other Christian ministries.
The resolution stated that messengers stand with Jesus in loving and protecting children. It urges all Maryland/Delaware Baptists to employ every preventative tool at their disposal, including background checks, to discourage the existence of environments in which the exploitation of children can take place. It reminds Maryland/Delaware Baptists of their legal and moral responsibility to report any accusations of child abuse to authorities and to cooperate fully with law enforcement officials in exposing and bringing to justice all perpetrators. The resolution also encourages pastors and church leaders to develop and implement sound policies and procedures to protect children.
The resolution also urges all Maryland/Delaware Baptist churches, associations and the convention to pray for children who are victims of abuse, to stand for their protection, to support safe and healthy children's ministries and communities and to provide supportive professional counseling and other resources that will assist in their recovery.
Jose Nater, a bi-vocational church planter who started three churches in seven years, was selected as one of six missionaries who will be highlighted by the North American Mission Board in 2014.
During his message, Nater shared Luke, 24:53. He said, "And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God." But there's a sequel, he added. In Acts, the Holy Spirit arrives.
"Do we have the same power? Yes! Are we using it?" Nater asked. "I would like our last verse to be like this: '.... and that is how the true followers went to their neighborhoods, their cities, their nations, proclaiming to all that needed to hear it. Then Jesus returned.'"
Next year's meeting will be held Nov. 9-11 at The Church at Severn Run in Severn, Md.
Sharon Mager is the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware correspondent.
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