Virtual Participation at the 2020 Northwest Baptist Annual Meeting

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In January 2020 I recommended virtual participation, including remote access to voting, for the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). My suggestion was not greeted with enthusiasm by some at the time, then came Covid-19 and the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting was cancelled for the first time in 75 years. Had virtual participation been established canceling the meeting would have been unnecessary.

The purpose of recommending virtual participation was not in anticipation of something like what we are currently experiencing. Rather, it was intended as a means to involve more people in the SBC, particularly those for whom finances and work schedule prevent traveling to a distant SBC location. I believe the SBC will be stronger and our support greater if we involve more churches and pastors in the decision-making process.

That said, Covid-19 has provided many Associations and State Conventions the opportunity to test the concept of virtual participation in their annual meetings. Some churches have done the same with business meetings, and nearly all churches have developed some form of online worship participation.

The Northwest Baptist Convention (Washington, Oregon, and north Idaho), which I serve, had our first virtual participation Annual Meeting on Nov. 10, with the initial feedback overwhelmingly positive. More than 330 registered as messengers and guests. Messengers provided their names, church name, church SBC ID number, and an email address. Votes were cast on six items, including one concerning the possibility of borrowing $5 million in short-term funding for relocating NWBC facilities. The votes were recorded in real-time through an on-line polling system, and the results of the votes were announced during the meeting. Virtual participants were able to ask questions through an online “chat” feature, and their questions were read and answered publicly in the meeting.

We shortened the meeting to 2 ½ hours, which provided time for reports, business, worship, as well as encouraging messages from President Barry Campbell and myself. While a virtual meeting didn’t satisfy the fellowship needs of participants, it did enable us to conduct business and address pressing matters. Moreover, the cost of doing the meeting online was quite reasonable. While we desperately desire face-face meetings in the future, I anticipate enabling virtual participation is something we will seriously consider, even when the Covid-19 disaster is over.

An SBC that was programmed with virtual participation as a primary method would offer intriguing opportunities. I believe Southern Baptists will increase support of SBC missions by enabling virtual participation in our Annual Meeting. We can no longer expect churches to support Southern Baptist missions out of obligation or because “they’ve always done so.” We must make engagement with the SBC easier using modern tools or expect a continued decline in concern and financial support of our cooperative mission. Just think about the possibilities virtual participation affords! Missionaries overseas could serve as messengers from their home churches in the U.S.A. Bi-vocational pastors, lay leaders with limited vacation, and others unable to physically attend, but whose churches faithfully support Cooperative Program missions, will have input through the voting process. Covid-19 has removed all doubt that the time has come for virtual participation in the SBC.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

Hope and Peace in Jesus – NWBC Annual Report 2020

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In John’s Gospel Jesus commissioned His disciples while they gathered in fear behind locked doors. It was Sunday evening. Jesus was crucified the Friday before. Huddled together, the disciples were considering the words Mary Magdalen had just spoken, “I have seen the Lord!” Her testimony added a measure of hope to their cauldron of fear. We are not told how Peter and the others responded to Mary, but they must have felt bewildered, when suddenly, Jesus “came, stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’” He showed them His hands and side, and said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” He then “breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (see John 20:18-22).

Looking back upon the past year, and attempting to picture what the year ahead might hold, “bewilderment” might be a word that describes us. Fear and wishful thinking have “camped out” in our hearts and minds. But like those first followers of Jesus, we have been “sent,” sent in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the peace of Christ. We have been sent, even as the Father sent Jesus. The fact of our sending, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, provides peace, hope, and certainty in a world that desperately needs all three.

We have seen the evidence of Jesus’ “sending” in our pastors and churches. As difficult as 2020 has been, God’s “sent ones” have served in remarkable ways. Nearly every church I’ve been to in the past few months has seen multiple people come to faith in Christ. New churches have begun, 13 in the past 12 months. In areas devastated by wildfires, churches have served as shelters and feeding centers. When many of our missionaries had to leave East Asia, 70 NWBC families, representing dozens of churches, offered to house them for an extended time period. Presently, we have six IMB missionary families state-siding in the Northwest.

Prior to Covid-19, seven new collegiate ministers expressed a calling to come and serve on college campuses in the Northwest. All seven came and are serving well, even with the Covid-19 restrictions. In the first weeks of school, at least four college students have come to faith in Christ. Gateway Seminary’s Pacific Northwest Campus has seen its largest enrollment gain in decades, with 31 new students for a total of 65 this fall.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the NWBC, and all other State Conventions, is the continuation of diminished partnership with the North American Mission Board (NAMB). The 2021 NWBC budget anticipates a $652,043 reduction in funding from the North American Mission Board, and $64,000 reduction from Lifeway Christian Resources. Although these reductions are substantial, the faithfulness of NWBC churches remains strong and growing, helping to offset some of the reductions. This, together with relocating convention offices to a smaller, less costly, facility, will enable us to serve our churches well. By 2022 it is quite possible that the NWBC will no longer have any meaningful partnership with NAMB, which could be true of every other State Convention. This is tragic and harmful to the cooperative mission efforts of Baptists nationwide. As Southern Baptists awaken to this reality, and its harmful effects, things could change, and that is what we are striving for.

Although the great majority of our churches have shown remarkable resilience, sustained by God’s power, there have been casualties. Some churches have closed their doors permanently. Some of God’s best have suffered severely. Some have momentarily left the front lines for needed R&R. But the Body of Christ has, in most every way, remained strong and persevering. If the “gates of hell” cannot prevail against the Church, no virus can do so! As in every situation, what the enemy means for harm, God works for the good for those who love Him and are called by Him.

Whether you and your church “feel” as though you are prevailing, hang in there. We need you. The Northwest needs you and we need your witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Northwest, and our nation, is experiencing bitter, hateful division. We have witnessed so-called leaders use tragedy to fear-monger and gain power. That is sad. But the weapons of the church are truth, love, prayer, humility, gentleness, kindness, and the peace of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Your family needs the peace of Jesus Christ. Your neighborhood and community needs the peace of Jesus Christ. From the living room to the church house, from the courtroom to the state house, we need the peace of Jesus Christ. In our schools and our workplaces, we need the peace of Jesus Christ. Wherever you and I are, Jesus is, and that means that God’s peace is possible for the communities He sent us to. And when we fail to allow Jesus and His peace to prevail in our lives, the road back is through repentance and restoration. God has a plan for us, even when we fail, especially when we fail. Praise His name!

It is a good day to serve the Lord, and to serve Him in the Northwest is especially good.