NEGAUNEE, Mich.—When the conference committee of the Michigan Association of Regular Baptist Churches met in spring 2019 to begin planning for the 2020 MARBC Conference, they had no idea how appropriate their choice of the theme “Connect” would be. Although the venue and format ended up significantly different than planned, the emphasis upon connecting became an even more important priority.

Seeking to provide pastors and church members with a convenient opportunity to connect during this season of COVID-19 restrictions, the committee adjusted the MARBC Conference from a single venue to three one-day gatherings in October. This new format allowed people to choose a gathering close enough to their locations without the need for overnight accommodations. After the committee had to quickly make further COVID-19 related changes, two one-day gatherings were held on consecutive weeks.

Two one-day gatherings

In the Upper Peninsula, church members enjoyed the beautiful fall scenery as they traveled to Calvary Baptist Church in Negaunee Oct. 13. “Pastor Randy and Debbie Reed and the Calvary family provided a wonderful venue for the conference,” says Ken Floyd, MARBC executive director.

In the Lower Peninsula, church members gathered at First Baptist Church in Rochester Oct. 19. This location was a last-minute change due to COVID-19 related issues at the original two host churches. “Pastor Mark Cizauskas and his staff did a wonderful job mobilizing just four days prior to the conference,” Ken says. Sessions of the Rochester conference were also livestreamed for those unable to attend in person.

Four speakers

Pastor Ross Shannon speaks at the MARBC Annual Conference.

Ross Shannon, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lapeer, spoke on “Prayer and Ministry Mindset” in both Negaunee and Rochester. Emphasizing the Apostle Paul’s priority of prayer in Philippians 1, Ross reminded pastors of the necessity to say no to good things in order to do the best. He noted that three anchor truths must be the focus of a pastor’s prayerful pursuit: the fruit of righteousness, blessing that comes through Christ and not the pastor, and praise that brings God glory.

Mike Hess, GARBC national representative, spoke in Negaunee. Speaking from Psalm 62, he reminded those in attendance that “God alone is sufficient in your times of desperation. Despair looks at present circumstances, and hope looks to the future.” The way to evaluate whether you are truly trusting God, Hess says, is by whether you completely submit to His guidance and direction. God alone is God; therefore, the person who stays strong in the most difficult of situations is the one who remains focused on God’s character and remembers to trust in “only God, only God, only God!”

Speaking on the topic “Preaching and Ministry Mindset,” Bob McNeil, teaching pastor at Shelby Road Baptist Church in Shelby, challenged attendees in Rochester to think both Biblically and strategically. “Pastors and churches can do ministry with very different methodologies and still be doing it right,” he said, sharing from his many years of pastoral ministry. “Ministry methods and preferences should not be placed on the same level as the commands of God.” Citing Paul’s commentary in 1 Corinthians 3:1–11 and 1 Corinthians 12:12–26, he encouraged those gathered to remember that “our strength as churches and as an association is that, apart from doctrine, we’re not exactly the same. That’s a good thing.”

“Pastors and churches can do ministry with very different methodologies and still be doing it right. Ministry methods and preferences should not be placed on the same level as the commands of God.”

Mike Hess speaks in Negaunee, Mich.

Ken Floyd concluded both gatherings by summarizing God’s blessings upon the association in the past year and sharing practical ways pastors can lead their churches during and after the pandemic. He also gave an encouraging update regarding how God has significantly blessed the strategic efforts of several churches that are engaged in church revitalization partnerships. He concluded by pointing pastors to the Antioch church in Acts 11 as an effective model for dealing with the current cultural, political, and societal issues.

“Grace-motivated responses to persecution and ethnic and religious differences, combined with a daily commitment to grace-filled relationships, are the greatest challenge and also the greatest opportunity of today’s church,” Ken says. “Churches that focus upon grace-filled relationships will experience God’s blessings, bring God glory, and demonstrate daily how God’s grace can bless those who put God’s glory first in interpersonal relationships.”

Business session and a look ahead

During the business session, the MARBC welcomed a new church into its association: Calvary Baptist Church in Gaylord. Located less than an hour south of the Mackinac Bridge, the church is being led through the first stages of a revitalization process by Pastor Jim Huber. The MARBC has come alongside the church to provide additional assistance.

New Council of 16 members were selected through on-site and online voting. The newly elected Council members are Bill Abernathy of Berean Baptist Church in Portage, Tim Brokke of First Baptist Church in Rochester, Jeff Burr of Forest Hills Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, and Kevin Moses of First Baptist Church in Lapeer.

Next year’s conference will be held at Lake Ann Camp Oct. 11–13. The three-day format will aim to encourage pastoral staff relationships and strengthen the association’s regional dynamics. Then in 2022, the conference will be a tristate gathering of the Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio associations, meeting at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Toledo, Ohio.