Posted: 11/12/19 at 8:00am. Article by Will Cumbia.
ROANOKE, VA — The 196th Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) kicked off Monday at Bonsack Baptist Church with a day focused on missions. This year’s theme, “Renew,” is based on Romans 12: 1-2 and challenges attendees to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
“Missions Monday” started off with a gathering of Korean-speaking church leaders as well as the annual Pastor’s Conference.
The day continued with an afternoon filled with breakout sessions spotlighting the work of a wide array of BGAV-affiliated ministries and missions partners. Leaders from Fresh Expressions and the V3 Church Planting Movement shared engaging ways for participants to creatively think about church in their communities. Elijah Brown, General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, gave a report on the growth of the global church. BGAV missions partnership focus:refugees partners from as close as Richmond to as far as Lebanon told stories and shared ways Virginia Baptists can get involved in refugee work.
After a shared community meal, Todd Combee honored veterans with a prayer and opened the evening session focused on the church in the future.
“Be careful what you pray for.”
These were the opening words of Alia Abboud, the Director of Development and Partner Relations at the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development (LSESD). Alia lives and works in Lebanon, where a fourth of the population are refugees from Syria, a historic enemy of Lebanon. The BGAV is partnering with LSESD as a part of the missions partnership focus:refugees.
“Our churches had been praying for revival in Lebanon,” Abboud shared, “but we never expected it to come through Syrian refugees.” Many Baptist churches in the country were closed off to ministering to refugees because of the pain they had incurred from Syrians.
Yet slowly, churches started responding to the crisis, one-by-one, embracing their enemies. Soon Lebanese Baptists realized that refugees were more than just refugees, but people with names, families, and many cultural similarities to Lebanese people.
“God used this terrible, horrible crisis to help us understand the true meaning of the gospel, teaching us about forgiveness,” Abboud concluded. “God is transforming our churches.”
Valerie Carter Smith, Executive Director of the Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia prayed for refugees in Lebanon and for work in Virginia before she welcomed Matt Thornhill to speak.
Thornhill is one of the founders of SIR’s Institute for Tomorrow think tank in Richmond, Virginia. He utilizes his organization’s focus on understanding trends that matter and the people who are shaping them to think critically about the future church.
Focusing on “the future we already know,” he pointed out trends in the church that “you can take to the bank” and then outlined ways that the church could respond.
“The most important shift that we are seeing is that we are growing older,” he noted, citing statistics showcasing how by 2030 there will be as many young people as old people in Virginia. Thornhill sees this as an opportunity, not necessarily a death sentence, encouraging churches to “activate the boomers” to reach out to other boomers in their communities rather than churches solely focusing on reaching younger generations.
Thornhill did note that in order to engage with Millennials, churches must leave their four walls and engage with communities around them. He puts it like this, saying, “we’ve built churches that are bait shops, when Jesus said go out and fish.”
Finally, Thornhill charged participants to be better about being inclusive, and to realize that God loves all people. We must build a big tent where everyone can belong, he argued, saying, “I don’t think Jesus was in the pushing-away business; he was in the bringing-people-together business.”
BGAV Executive Director, John Upton, closed the evening reflecting on the two speakers, praying that participants will be renewed this week. He welcomed the BGAV family and asked that God may do something unique and powerful in the BGAV in these next days.
The meeting continues Tuesday morning at 8:45 am with the first business session.
The Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) is a cooperative missions and ministry organization that consists of over 1,360 autonomous churches in the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as churches from Seoul, South Korea, Toronto, Ontario, the District of Columbia, and the states of California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.