The Future of Associations

If associations are going to exist in the future we must ask the hard questions now and that is why I’ve chosen to share the following article with you.  It is from a June 21, 2016 blog post by Ed Stetzer.  It addresses the importance of associations demonstrating their value to local churches and was part of a series on the “future of the SBC”:

churchesEd Stetzer –  As geographic concerns lessen through the use of technology, churches are forming networking partnerships that unite churches around theological and missiological concerns.  That’s generally called associationalism.

These networks did not, and could not, exist 20 years ago—due to technological limitations—have exploded now. This generates questions for denominations whose structural model has remained the same since pastors traveled by horses to meetings.

We have to ask exactly how effective we have been over the last 100 years when many horse riding pastors would recognize today’s structures.

Currently, in Southern Baptist life, there is a direct link between the state conventions and the national convention through the funding mechanism of the SBC. It’s called the Cooperative Program (or “CP” for my non-SBC readers).

Baptist associations have been historically left out of that by their request, actually.

This causes them to function as free agents of sorts—each is autonomous. While the state and national conventions desperately need each other, they drawn from the same CP dollars. Strategies like the Great Commission Resurgence called for tightening of state belts to fund the national body ever more fully. This, for some states, has been a challenge, but has had little impact on associations.

 Local associations predate the larger organizational structures, but pastors in the next 20 years are not going to continue using a methodology simply because “it has always been that way.” Because of this, a squeeze is coming that will cause the local church to evaluate the partnerships they are engaged in to determine the ones that are the most beneficial to their stated goals.

 Clarification of roles

Churches that have multiple layers of partnerships will often choose between them—and they will do that based on their stewardship focus.  If a church is financially partnering with a theological network, a local area association, a state and a national organization, it is investing a significant amount of its resources in these groups.

The question then becomes: “Who does what?” If the local church has multiple overlap between all of their partnerships, why should they continue to keep them all?

Each partnership should have a clear and established role that benefits the local church. Most denominations do not have a long successful track record of accomplishing this. Often there is duplication key roles. Many church leaders, especially those with business or leadership training, become frustrated by the perceived (or actual) waste of resources.

This is where networks have frequently stepped in and provided a much more flexible solution for the churches. Not having decades or even centuries of bureaucratic weight, networks have organized themselves to be as lean as possible to meet the needs of churches in the current context.  

So, in some ways, networks are replacing associations.  But, it does not have to be that way.

Future of local associations

I’m in favor of the new networks that have developed. Any network that pushes people to greater mission and partnership is a great thing. But local churches need to decide how best to connect with them—when to partner and when not to partner.

There can be a place for these smaller geographic connections for churches to continue, like associations. A far spread network may share your passion for church planting, but they don’t share your zip code. There are roles local leaders can provide that a national organization will not be able to mimic.

Also, you can meet and connect with local pastors who are, yes, different than you. That’s good for you, your church, and the kingdom.

Local associations need to look at the involvement of their churches. In my non-scientific observation, the majority of local associations have well-connected relationships with churches that are 75 years and older, moderate connection to those around 50 years old, but minimal connection to churches less than 20 years old. If that is the case, the future does not look bright for those associations. They, like many of the older churches that comprise them, will die from attrition.

 The key to sustained ministry in associations is discovering the needs of the churches local to your area and meeting them. Theological networks, along with state and national organizations cannot possible know all of the ministry needs of the people on your street. But your association may.   Those closest to the ground can have the strongest partnership if they involve more churches, engage faithfully, and connect pastors.

 Different tools to reach the same goal

Central to the purpose for every church should be the Great Commission.

We exist to making disciples. For the different levels of connectivity to remain, they need to demonstrate to the local church how they can help them further that goal in unique ways.

When resources are wasted through various partnerships all offering the same thing, churches become discouraged and the goal is hindered. However, when each partnership of the church meets a need and provides a service the others cannot, the church is encouraged to do more and the Gospel is advanced.

 Associations can most definitely be one of those beneficial partnerships.

New Building for Mill Creek Baptist Church

Mill Creek BC Building Project

Tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy earlier this month for one Bell County congregation.  Mill Creek Baptist Church was destroyed by fire on a snowy February 16, 2015 morning but, thanks to the Mobile (AL) Baptist Builders, a new building is now under construction.

On June 4 a team of 120+ volunteers, all unpaid, rolled into the Stoney Fork community of Bell County to begin work on the new church building.  The volunteers were from 14 states across the U.S., some as far away as Maine and Colorado and some from within the state of Kentucky.

In just 4 days the building was up and the roof and steeple were on.  An outline of a cross behind where the pulpit will eventually stand, overlooked the blue sky, green trees, and the beautiful Bell County mountains.  From now until September other volunteer teams will follow and do finish work, until the new church building is completed.  Mill Creek BC Building Project 2

In addition to the construction work there was also a lot of ministry going on.  Each day throughout the week the volunteers fed 80 – 90 children in the area, played games, and shared the Gospel message with them.  They also held classes for the ladies of the community.

Every evening after dinner the team had a worship and testimony service.  As of Wednesday one person had professed faith in Christ and the Gospel message was continuing to be shared, even among their fellow team members, as some of them were not believers.

We like to “go where God’s people are and we want to go help God’s people,” says Burben Sullins, coordinator for Mobile Baptist Builders.  “This is my 34th year in volunteer missions and this is my 70th project,” he went on to say.

When asked about the work of the team, Mill Creek Pastor Larry Sowders said, “it was unreal.  These were amazing people that were led and called by God, and Burben Sullins was an amazing leader.”

Cooperation.  That is a key word for Southern Baptists.  And, this project was just one way the family of Southern Baptists serve one another.

Each year several teams such as the Mobile Baptist Builders serve in Kentucky.  These teams like to come and work on new construction projects, building from the slab up.  Hundreds of volunteers, both men and women, take a week of their vacation, and pay their own way, to participate in volunteer missions.

If your church is planning to build and is interested in a Baptist Builder team, please contact the Missions Mobilization Team of the Kentucky Baptist Convention at [email protected].  We can help you to connect.

Why I am Encouraged (afresh) to be a Southern Baptist

SBC-LogoI was born into a Southern Baptist home.  While I did not fully realize what that meant until much later in life, I am grateful for the legacy of being a Southern Baptist.  Though not a perfect denomination in the past or even the present, I excited about the current and future state of our denomination.  I believe the days to come are some of the brightest for Southern Baptists.  Not in any particular order, here some reasons why I am excited about being a Southern Baptist.

  1. The gospel is central to all that we do. Whether in providing disaster relief, planting churches, reaching the unreached, engaging the culture, or training disciples to make disciples, the SBC is uncompromising in its focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  1. Reconciliation of all peoples is a priority. Though our past is marked by the darkness of slavery, we recognize that all people are created in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect.  Even though we still have a long way to go in regards to racial reconciliation, we are moving forward, by God’s grace, in tearing down the wall of hostility (Eph 2).
  1. We still stand upon the inerrancy of Scripture. We believe in an ancient book that brings about new change.  As Southern Baptists, we affirm that the Scriptures are completely true from Genesis to Revelation.  If we can’t trust all of the Bible, then we can’t trust any of the Bible.
  1. We are a big tent convention. As our KBC state executive director, Dr. Paul Chitwood says, “Every tent is held down by (four) pegs.”  As we affirm together the BF&M 2000, inerrancy of Scripture, Cooperative Program, and the Great Commission, there is room for our diversity.  Some would bemoan the largeness of our tent, but there is beauty in our diversity, particularly for a watching world.  As long as we all can embrace these tent pegs, there is room under the tent.
  1. We have the greatest means of global impact—the Cooperative Program. No other denomination has such a mechanism in place to cooperate together for gospel impact among the nations.  The driving force for such gospel advancement is not found on the national nor state level, but the local church.  Regardless of the size, every church matters in this collective aim to make much of Jesus across the street, throughout the country, and around the world.  Pulling our resources together to extend the gospel through the Cooperative Program has no equal.
  1. Our dollars are not the only means of gospel advancement. While our collective giving makes a world of difference, Southern Baptists, by and large, realize that we need “boots on the ground.”  As I heard one state executive director say a couple of years ago, “Money alone is not the answer.  We need boots on the ground.”  Perhaps like never before, Southern Baptists recognize the dire need for more boots on the ground in our neighborhoods and among the nations.  There is no substitution for incarnational ministry.
  1. We are a sending people. Yes, we brought home 1,100 from the IMB, but not because we wanted to.  Sometimes hard decisions must be made in order to have long-term impact.  Overall, Southern Baptists are distinguished as a people who send their people not away from the fire or devastation, but into it.  Our churches are sending their people into the streets and across the seas in order to engage people with the gospel of Jesus.

These are but a few reasons why I am encouraged to be a Southern Baptist.  What reasons would you add to this list?

When a Change of Course is Necessary

Change AheadNot long ago, I was invited to preach at a church in a metropolitan area.  I arrived on a Sunday morning to a large church facility that was showing some signs of some needed maintenance and renovation.  I estimated that the auditorium would seat 700-800 people.  They had an abundance of Bible study classrooms and a family life center.  The carpet was a bit worn and the church did have a bit of dated look, but it was still an impressive building in the community.

I had the blessing of preaching God’s Word that morning, in this massive structure, to a crowd of 26 people.  The only people in the congregation under 70 were myself and a visiting family. (By the way, they informed me that they probably would not be back, as they were looking for a church with a youth program).  After the worship time, the congregation invited me join them for a potluck meal.  The people were friendly and very gracious to me on this Sunday, but I will never forget what one older man told me as we shared a meal.

He described how they had once been a thriving, growing church with multiple services.  He went on to share that they had a young pastor come to their church.  He began to make some changes and, because of this, the church was growing.  The older gentleman shared that some of us did not like the shifts to “our” church, and we put our foot down and stopped the changes.  The pastor left, after a bit, when he got weary of the battles, and we got our desire.  Now, we just wonder who will be the one of us who has to lock the door for the last time.

The man wept that morning, as he told me this story.  I wonder how often this is repeated in other churches.

Our God is an unchanging God and we preach an unchanging Word of truth.  But, change is necessary if a church or ministry is to continue to grow and be relevant in a changing world.

When should the church or a ministry change?

  1. When change will move us from traditions to Biblical principles.
  2. When change will empower us to be more missional and increase our ability to reach people with the Gospel of Christ.
  3. When change will enable us to be more vibrant and active in our faith.
  4. When change will move us from the pews to engaging our world for the sake of Christ.
  5. When change will open our doors and encourage more people to connect with us.
  6. When change will enable us to move beyond the walls of our church to demonstrate the love of Christ to our community.
  7. When change will empower us to fulfill Christ’s command to fulfill the Great Commission.
  8. When needed change is revealed to us by the Spirit of God.

God brings change in order to continue to draw people into a relationship with Him.  Our God delights in newness; this is why the Scriptures speak of a new creation, new mercies, new self, new birth, new heart, new spirit, new wine-skins, new heaven, new earth, and a new song.  Change is necessary for any entity to continue to grow, including the church.

Truth be told, it was never my church or ministry anyway.  It is His church and His ministry and so it is really not about me.  It is all about Him!