TOCCOA— Never before has cooperative ministry and innovation been so important to help churches reach others for Christ, associational mission strategists heard and discussed at their annual workshop held Feb. 4-6 at the Georgia Baptist Convention Conference Center in Toccoa.
Josh Ellis, executive director of Union Baptist Association in Houston, Texas, served as the featured speaker. UBA consists of more than 560 affiliate congregations primarily located in the greater Houston area.
“Churches must cooperate together in order to accomplish the Great Commission, whether that’s through church planting, replanting, traditional pastoring or whatever the task,” Ellis said. “Associations are uniquely positioned to bring churches together, and we have to figure out how to do that.
“It’s not the association’s primary job to make churches better islands unto themselves … [but to] bring churches together in a common effort.”
In addition to presenting four sessions on how associational work can be effective, the 41-year-old Ellis left plenty of time for answering questions from strategists.
The size of an association like UBA, noted Ellis, doesn’t factor as heavily as one may think in its potential impact among its churches.
“Concepts are scalable,” he pointed out during the Tuesday morning session. “Start with your [goal] and increase it by one.”
For instance, he said, if your association planted one church last year, try to plant two this year. Didn’t plant any? Start with the goal of one.
“It all comes down to leadership and vision,” stated Ellis. “When people embrace the vision of something, they’ll support it. … Because associations are closest to the church, not only can they be relevant, they should be relevant.”
Approximately 60 associational mission strategists attended the workshop themed “Moving Toward the Future.” Augusta Baptist Association’s Dwayne Boudreaux joined others in praising the gathering.
“It was informative and inspirational. The question-and-answer time was very helpful and spurred interaction. Josh aggressively prompted discussion,” Boudreaux said.
Peer learning groups followed each section, where further discussion helped missionaries see where ministry principles could be applied.
“The peer discussion groups were very helpful,” added Boudreaux. “My group was a good cross-section of missionaries from various places around the state and different settings.”
Darey Kittle, North Georgia Baptist Association’s missionary, appreciated the focus on bringing about collaborative work among churches.
“This training has been like drinking from a fire hydrant. It’s relevant to what we’re facing. I liked the overall message of ‘better together’ and how we’re not little islands. To face the future, we have to work together,” he said.
Peer groups a time for encouragement
Outgoing Georgia Baptist Associational Missions President David Self, of Washington Baptist Association, was pleased with the workshop.
“It went quite nicely. Josh pointed out how associations – small ones and large ones – can have the same kind of problems but also the same kind of solutions. In the peer learning groups guys were given the opportunity to unpack their stories about their needs and share their hearts about how we can all make things better [in our associations.].
“There was a lot of positive feedback about the peer learning groups. Many talked about how they could share things during that time that they couldn’t share with anyone else.”
Georgia Baptist Executive Director Thomas Hammond gave an update on recent changes at the Mission Board while encouraging those gathered. In a key priority for the Mission Board, he stated, associations would factor toward encouraging and equipping pastors.
“You are a very big part of what we’re doing. As those who are encouraging, loving, and resourcing pastors, we’re right there with you,” he said.
Hammond’s hour-long time with associational missionaries also included a lengthy question-and-answer session. Toward the end he presented Kenneth Cloud of Bowen Baptist Association as Associational Missionary of the Year (story to come).