Associations and leaders are needed in SBC, presidential candidates agree


INDIANAPOLIS — Baptist associations and associational mission strategists (or directors of mission) have an important role in the Southern Baptist Convention, especially when it comes to encouraging and equipping churches and pastors, candidates for the SBC presidency agree.

All six presidential candidates were invited to address the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders on Sunday at the Indianapolis Convention Center.

In introducing the candidates, Josh Ellis, executive director of Union Baptist Association in Houston, noted they had been asked to answer only one question, “In your ideal SBC, assuming associations were running at optimal levels, what is the most significant contribution that associations make to the SBC ecosystem?”

Ellis jokingly said, “We all understand that you’re politicians in this moment, but we’ve all heard that associations are the ‘front line’ ad nauseam, and while we appreciate it, you can skip the platitudes. Let’s just talk shop.”

Candidates were given four minutes each to answer the question.

Jared Moore, pastor of Homesteads Baptist Church, Crossville, Tenn., led off. He observed that one of the roles of the association and its leader is to encourage local churches to participate in state conventions and the Cooperative Program as well as the national entities. “We can accomplish so much more by working together.”

Associational mission strategists also have a role to encourage their pastors to preach the gospel and love their people, Moore added.

Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church, Charlotte, N.C., recalled that a director of missions took him under his wing when he first became a pastor. “He invested in me and became my pastor,” Pressley said.

He also noted associations have a role in church revitalization. “Directors of missions can play an important role in connecting healthy churches with churches that are in distress,” Pressley said.

Bruce Frank, lead pastor of Biltmore Church, Arden, N.C., took the relationship between an AMS and a pastor a step further. As the connection to the pastors, “you play a massive role in helping them do what they were called in the ministry to do” — leading people to Christ. “They did not get into ministry to do business meetings. They got into the ministry to see people surrender to the lordship of Christ.”

If you come alongside these pastors and “encourage them, equip them, resource them, show them and listen, this can be done,” Frank observed.

Dan Spencer, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Sevierville, Tenn., noted that the most significant contribution that associations can make moving forward is going to be church health and pastor wellness.

“Nobody like an AMS knows the churches that are unhealthy and have low health and can step in and do triage and figure out what is the resource that’s needed,” he said. As an example, he shared how his own AMS (Justin Johnson of Sever County Association of Baptists), responded to a bivocational pastor who “was having a difficult time. He assessed the situation, brought in some guys around him, recommended some resources, offered some training and spent some real time with the guy.

“What an impact that makes on the health of a church and the health of a pastor when an AMS can step in and do that.”

Mike Keahbone, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Lawton, Okla., told three stories of DOMs who impacted his life, who were “lifelines” when he desperately needed one.

“Pastors need somebody who’s going to pastor us. We need somebody that’s going to be our friend. We need somebody that’s going to guide us, protect us and walk us through the hardest and most difficult times of ministry. And that’s what you do,” Keahbone affirmed.

David Allen, who lives in Texas but is dean of the Adrian Rogers Center for Biblical Preaching at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn., shared stories of four leaders of Dallas Baptist Association, who impacted him over 45 years of ministry.

“They (and the association) did three things for me and for the churches that I serve that I would want to see happen,” Allen said. Associations provide training and resources. Associations bring pastors together for fellowship and friendships and also provide encouragement.

“Those three things would be my hope and my prayer and my dream for all of our associations and for you who are associational leaders as you lead us into the future, starting churches, strengthening churches and connecting churches for the glory of God and for the mission of the gospel and for the work of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Ellis closed the session with prayer for the six presidential candidates.


This story first appeared in The Baptist and Reflector.