By David Roach
MCDONOUGH —The small-town pastor seemed largely unresponsive as he sat across from his local Associational Mission Strategist (AMS). “What a waste of time,” the AMS thought as he drove away from their consulting session. But he was wrong.
A year later, the pastor contacted the AMS with a report: He had done everything the associational leader suggested, and the church had outgrown its facility. The congregation had fresh energy, it purchased land for a relocation and a capital campaign was underway. “What’s next?” the pastor asked.
That is among the stories of associations’ ongoing impact conveyed in “The Baptist Association: Assisting Churches. Advancing the Gospel.” Released in June by the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL), the book explains the role of associations in 21st-century Southern Baptist life and offers counsel on how to lead them.
We need pastors and Southern Baptist leaders
“We need pastors and Southern Baptist leaders at all levels to value our way of doing cooperative missions—starting with associational missions,” writes Ray Gentry, the book’s editor and SBCAL president. “Churches should appreciate associations for assisting them in advancing the Gospel in current, tangible, and historic ways.”
“The Baptist Association” is the first major work on Southern Baptist associations since 1984, when the Baptist Sunday School Board published J.C. Bradley’s “A Baptist Association.” The new volume is based on recommendations and research presented in 2018 by an SBCAL study team that explored the role of associational leaders and recommended changing their title to AMS. Some of the book’s 25 contributors served on that study team.
Production of the volume was a collaborative effort. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) paid for the first printing, and will send one to each of the 1,100 Baptist associations in the Southern Baptist family. SBCAL will be sending copies to Baptist state convention executive directors and Southern Baptist Convention entity leaders. The book was printed by Rainer Publishing, which is owned by the sons of retired LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer.
Contributors to “The Baptist Association” describe how a local fellowship of churches can remain relevant in the era of global connectivity and online ministry resources.
The heart of the Baptist vision for cooperation
The book begins with a survey of associations in Scripture and Baptist history. In the New Testament, churches associated with one another to promote church planting, church health and doctrinal purity, writes Glenn Davis, AMS for the Heart of Kansas Baptist Association in Wichita, Kansas. North Greenville University Provost Nathan Finn explains that “associationalism has always been at the heart of the Baptist vision for cooperation.”
The remainder of part one addresses, among other topics, the role of an AMS, first-year priorities for new associational leaders and how associations can advance the Gospel internationally and across North America. The latter two topics are addressed in chapters by International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood and NAMB President Kevin Ezell.
Part two includes chapters on 17 proficiencies of effective associational leaders. They are divided into “foundational proficiencies” like personal character and spiritual maturity, “relational proficiencies” like emotional intelligence and authentic vulnerability and “strategic proficiencies” like vision casting and communication.
Other contributors include:
- Johnny Rumbough, executive director of the Lexington (South Carolina) Baptist Association;
- Tom Billings, executive director emeritus of the Union Baptist Association in Houston;
- Bob Lowman, executive director of the Metrolina Baptist Association in Charlotte, North Carolina;
- Jim Breeden, former executive director of the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association;
- Rick Wheeler, president and CEO of Florida Baptist Financial Services and former lead mission strategist for the Jacksonville (Florida) Baptist Association; and
- Mark Snowden, AMS for the Cincinnati Area Baptist Association.
“The future is bright” for associations, Gentry writes, “if we will pray and work together in humility and true partnership at all levels of SBC life for the glory of God.”
“The Baptist Association” is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions, as well as at www.sbcal.org.
David Roach is a writer in Nashville, Tennessee.