Don’t Pull the Plug on Your Association Yet
Many say the local Baptist association is dead. It may have once the bedrock of Baptist cooperation, but why submit yourself to another mind-numbing meeting about irrelevant committees? Let’s pull the plug. It is time to end the misery.
Not so fast! I just left a meeting in which I was developing a plan for a church plant in an area of our county that has no gospel witness. We strategized together about training pastors in the Philippines. We discussed church revitalization in Scotland.
Was this a strategy session with my elders? No, it was a meeting of the Nelson Baptist Association.
You will be forgiven for having a hard time believing me. I have sat through many association meetings over the years. I have been as frustrated as you have been. I have been tempted to throw my hands up in the air and disengage. But I am glad I did not. Here’s why.
HOW WE TURNED AROUND OUR LOCAL ASSOCIATION
The Nelson Baptist Association has forty-three churches from three counties in central Kentucky. I came to this area ten years ago and was struck by the lack of health in many churches. It was messy stuff. There was suspicion, distrust, and theological apathy. Yet the association today is a long way from that. How did this turnaround happen for us so quickly?
1. A group of pastors has committed to each other.
In and through this local Baptist association, a group of pastors have established strong relationships with each other. Pastors are praying, encouraging, exhorting, and, on occasion, rebuking one another. Pastors are fighting alongside each other, not against each other.
2. We recognized the need for change.
Increasingly, there was dissatisfaction with the way things were. Funding was dwindling, attendance at meetings was pitiful, and the association was struggling to come to terms with what its purpose was.
3. We've been blessed with renewed leaderships.
Our association has a new Director of Missions who is an energetic, kind-hearted, well-respected man. He is a bridge-builder, but is not afraid to contend for the faith. And he is willing to come alongside pastors and invite them to be a part of the process of change.
HOW WE WORK TOGETHER
Today, the Nelson Baptist Association is a partnership of churches that is committed to planting new churches, working together in our community, resourcing churches to go to the nations, and seeking to strengthen church health. We pursue these goals through appointing and funding three teams of pastors and church members.
1. The Church Planting and Missions Team
In just two years we have funded six church plants, worked together to revitalize a struggling church, awarded numerous scholarships for pastors to go on mission, and developed partnerships to train pastors overseas.
2. The Church and Leadership Development Team
This team has hosted a spiritual disciplines conference with Dr. Donald Whitney. It has hosted a pastor’s forum with Brian Croft. It is planning a leadership conference on “The Leader as Shepherd.” And it is developing a systematic theology curriculum for local churches.
3. The Community Ministry Team
This team has coordinated much of the work that our churches do in the area of biblical counseling, disaster relief, and benevolence ministries.
As a result of these changes, the churches and pastors in our association have come to regard it as having great purpose and value. Funding has increased. Meetings are well attended. Pastors are establishing relationships. The annual meeting is a time of worship with expositional preaching and testimonies from our work together. Around 700 now typically attend.
CAN’T FIX YOUR ASSOCIATION? WHY NOT START A NEW ONE?
You might look at your own association and conclude there is no way you can move things in a better direction, and that might be true.
But if that’s the case, why not start your own? Four, five or more churches associating together in an informal partnership for the purpose of church planting, missions, and leadership training can only be a good thing. It is modeled in Scripture, and it is worth the energy to do it. And it starts with pastors of local churches partnering together for the gospel.
The local Baptist association is not dead. In terms of making a local impact for the gospel, it has been a vital tool for us here. Do not be too quick to give up on it. It can be a powerful gospel partnership in your local context.