Adoption forum at #TalkCP with leaders of our SBC agencies—all adoptive parents. Left to right: Sandy Wisdom-Martin (WMU), Russell Moore (ERLC), David Platt (IMB) and Kevin Ezell (NAMB).

HARRISBURG – An open letter from Dr. Pamela Smith

Thank you, BRN, for making it possible for me to attend the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) last week in Phoenix. I had not been to the SBC since the 2014 Convention in Baltimore. It was a blessing to go again, and I came away with seven significant benefits:

1. I know you better.

The Southern Baptist Convention is a microcosm-in-view of the issues concerning Southern Baptist pastors, planters, missionaries, ministry leaders and churches from across the country and, indeed, around the world. As I listened to keynote speakers, learned from workshop presenters and interacted with convention-goers, I developed a more comprehensive perspective on what matters to you where you serve, as well as how I may better serve you. Always, the question foremost on my mind was, “What can I bring back to the BRN that will make your lives and ministries easier, more fulfilling, effective and fruitful?”

2. I know SBC leaders better.

In my role at the state level, I often work long-distance with SBC leaders from the national entities, particularly Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the International Mission Board (IMB). The Southern Baptist Convention brings leaders from all of the entities together in one place for a concentrated amount of time. I could never travel across the country to every entity for individual appointments with these very busy people! Being where they all came in at once allowed me to hear them, meet them, talk with and learn from them, and just get to know them.

For example, one of the most interesting forums this year was on the topic of foster care and adoption. Panel members Sandy Wisdom-Martin (Executive Director-Treasurer of WMU), Russell Moore (President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission), David Platt (President of the IMB) and Kevin Ezell (President of NAMB) spoke from personal experience. Key leaders. Busy people. And all adoptive parents. Through this forum, I caught a glimpse of the “real people” behind the roles and feel like I know them a bit better now than I did before.

BRN’s own Kathy Sheldon, fifth from left, served on the search committee that resulted in Sandy Wisdom-Martin’s election as the 8th Executive Director-Treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union, SBC.

3. I know my peers across the SBC better.

No one understands what you do like someone who serves the same role in ministry as you serve, right? Likewise, no one understands the issues or challenges, the blessings or joys that come with being a state convention staff member like another state convention staff member serving a similar role. Attending the Southern Baptist Convention let me renew old friendships, as well as make new ones among my ministry peers, through sharing, learning, praying and playing together.

It also let me know and be known—know, so that when you call me to inquire about opportunities for your church to go on mission to Detroit, Michigan or Duck Hill, Mississippi, I’ll have a relationship with the persons on the other end of the line when I call them to hook you up; and be known, so that when God burdens the hearts of churches in another state for Philly or Pittsburgh, Altoona or Zeigler, because of our relationship, that state leader will think to call on me to help her connect with our churches here.

4. I could network on behalf of the BRN.

I am always looking for ways to partner the BRN with others of like-mind and –heart. What does Indiana WMU have to offer that can help us here in PASJ? How can NAMB’s Send Relief team resource our Disaster Relief ministry? Who are the churches in South Carolina with a heart for church planting in Pennsylvania? The Convention schedule had built-in opportunities for appointments with individuals I needed to see about something pressing. And, I also met informally with folks to exchange ideas, share resources, participate in discussions and lay the groundwork for partnerships.

In fact, just before I left for Phoenix, one of our Philly pastors called the BRN office with a need for volunteers to come alongside in ministering to inner-city youth this summer. Almost immediately upon arrival out West, I connected with a Virginia Baptist partner and we began to dream and plan. It looks like teams of volunteers may be coming from Virginia to Philly all through the month of August to meet that need!

5. I could expose the BRN to a national audience.

I was invited by WMU to be a presenter for a breakout session on Monday that brought together church, ministry and state leaders from Alaska, Hawaii, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland/Delaware, Michigan, New England, New Mexico, Oklahoma and beyond. I used the opportunity as a platform for sharing with this greater Southern Baptist family what God is doing among us.

And, I’m not the only PASJ Southern Baptist to serve on the national stage. While there are several with varying responsibilities, I ran into these over the course of this year’s meeting:

  • Kathy Sheldon, a member of the Executive Director-Treasurer search committee for Woman’s Missionary Union
  • Steve Sheldon, a board member for Gateway Seminary
  • Paula Cordray, a trustee of the North American Mission Board
  • Beth Whitworth, hostess of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey table at the Ministers’ Wives Luncheon
  • Marshall Williams and Darius Nable, with leading roles in the National African American Fellowship, SBC and the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America respectively.

Current Director of PASJ WMU, Dr. Pam Smith, with her predecessor, Dr. Gail Hallman, reconnecting at the Woman’s Missionary Union Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting.

6. I could represent BRN interests.

We are all part of something much bigger than ourselves: the Southern Baptist family. A primary focus of the Southern Baptist Convention is taking care of family business. Real decisions are made there—decisions that affect the direction of the Convention, such as how cooperative resources are used, who will lead and serve, statements of consensus opinion on contemporary issues and how we will work together in fulfilling the Great Commission—and every voice counts. By casting our votes on the matters at hand, we bring BRN interests to the table.

7. I was encouraged and grew.

I want to be the very best BRN staff member I can be and to deliver the very best service I can possibly deliver to you. At the Southern Baptist Convention, there are people promoting new ideas, vendors selling new products and practitioners teaching new methodologies. Attending the SBC allowed me to increase my knowledge base, hone my leadership skills and fill my ministry tool box.

At the same time, the SBC is a worship experience. Pastors and Bible teachers bring messages, musicians lead in praise, ministry reps give reports, and missionaries give testimonies and are commissioned. Being there with five thousand others—singing, praying, hearing and responding—I was inspired. I returned to PA a better BRN leader, more capable and refreshed.

Thank you again, BRN, for investing in me through the Southern Baptist Convention last week in Phoenix. I hope next June you’ll consider going to the meeting in Dallas and returning with your own number of benefits.