The Association is the earliest extra-church model of organization in Southern Baptist life. Associations evolved as a way of expressing affinity and cooperation among like-minded Baptists. They were helpful in connecting people for the work of the kingdom in geographic clusters.
Associations were especially helpful hubs for communication, resources, credentialing, and information in pioneer days. In those days, no one could have imagined digital technology. They could not have envisioned a world that was connected by the Internet where nearly infinite amounts of information were available at the touch of a button.
More recently some leaders have questioned the necessity of the Baptist Association. On February 8, 2016, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, then President of the SBC, asked in a blog article, “Do state conventions and associations have a future in Southern Baptist life?” Some of Dr. Floyd’s observations missed the mark for me, but it is a fair question. At a time where ministry leaders are struggling to fund the work of the local church, why should they send money to other ministries? Is the association still a worthwhile ministry value? Consider these Qualities of effective Associations:
Provide fine-tuned data and Research – We are able to access important community demographic information, as well as church specific data that is useful in evaluating trends and understanding issues of church health. Using the I-Go system provided by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board as well as the MissionInsite web data, we can put helpful information in front of congregational leaders so that they can better understand and adjust to their ministry realities. This helps provides strategic insight for church revitalization.
Help churches in transition – One of my very favorite responsibilities is to go out and train pastor search teams and follow up with them as they conduct their search for a pastor. This is a crisis in the life of a church. Not necessarily in a negative sense. It is a crisis in that it represents a crossroads with different possibilities.
Since I have had the opportunity to observe this and serve churches in this situation many times, I can help provide perspective for people who may be serving their church this way for the first time.
Provide an anchor and check for theological consistency – I have written before about the importance of having pastors aligned with your congregation’s larger denominational convictions. It’s not that other Christian denominations are totally wrong and Southern Baptists are totally right, but the best leaders for SBC churches are those who share its ministry and missions philosophies. We will always do our best to help churches locate pastors who match their historic congregational beliefs.
Keeps pastors connected for accountability, peer-learning, and Gospel partnership – Pastors need opportunities to connect with other pastors. Not all pastors take advantage of the opportunities, but all pastors need other people to help them who know what they are dealing with.
We calendar regular monthly ministers meetings, book study peer groups, as well as quarterly revitalization roundtable gatherings with ministry leaders. We also help provide direction for missions, evangelism and ministry projects.
Help with general ministry auditing – the ACR (Annual Church Record) channels through our office. We are able to access information that tracks each church’s financial trends (if they fill out and return their report). Also, because the Middle Baptist Association is totally funded by churches, we are occasionally able to detect irregular giving patterns that may clue a church that something unusual is happening with their giving. That rarely means something criminal is happening, but having another set of eyes observing patterns has often proven helpful to member churches.
Help churches find answers to less than obvious questions – Some information is out there and easy to access, but sometimes having someone who is constantly thinking about issues that are important, but secondary or peripheral to your main concerns is beneficial.
The missionary and assistant themselves – Not to sound arrogant or prideful, but the biggest resource an association can provide is the people it employs to serve the churches. This should be true in any association. Simply having people who eat, drink, and sleep the complicated realities of cooperative missions makes the ministry investment worthwhile.
When your church is considering whether or not the Association has value to them, these are some reasons your missionary believes it should.
This post originally appeared on Braswell’s blog.