Associational Mission Strategists (AMSs) are often asked to assist churches when one of their pastors leaves their church. They may be asked to fill the pulpit for one or more Sundays, train the Pastor Search Committee, and/or recommend Pulpit Supply, Interim Pastor Candidates, or Transitional Interim Pastor Candidates. They may even be asked to serve as the Interim Pastor, although some associations do not allow that option.
I am aware that some are of the persuasion that hosting conferences and workshops are passe. I am not saying every AMS needs to do these conferences. I will say that you need to know how God has gifted you and operate out of your spiritual gifts as much as possible. My gifts are administration, exhortation, and shepherding. Therefore, organizing Pastors Conferences, and other conferences and workshops comes relatively easy for me, whereas for others, it would be very difficult. However, if you are not gifted in this area, and yet you see the need to offer what we are talking about, pray and ask the Lord to raise up someone gifted in administration who can help you host a training conference with excellence.
For some time now, I have noticed that many of my pastors are discouraged and sometimes depressed because the usual metrics of ministry “success” – increasing numbers of bodies, budgets, and baptisms – are not happening. In fact, those numbers – with the possible exception of budgets – are not only not increasing, but they are generally decreasing.
In “The Gospel-Driven Church,” Jared Wilson, Author in Residence, Midwestern Seminary and Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry, Spurgeon College, Kansas City, MO, challenges churches to measure more than “bodies and budgets” because there is nothing uniquely Christian about these types of increases. He says businesses grow in these ways. Heretical ministries grow in these ways. I think he makes a valid point.
Many of you already know the importance of pastors gathering with pastors in small groups for peer learning. I learned the importance of it from some of you several years ago. But I believe there are a number of Associational Mission Strategists (AMSs) who do not have such groups in their associations yet. I encourage you to prayerfully consider implementing such a ministry. It has been very well received in my association.
Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another. Pr. 27:17 (CSB)
Peer learning groups – usually of 3-5, though that number can vary – are wonderful ways to experience and apply Pr. 27:17 if the focus is on sharpening one another spiritually, emotionally, and missionally.
Gray hair is a glorious crown; it is found in the ways of righteousness. Pr. 16:31(CSB)
According to a 2017 AMS Compensation Study, 88% of associational leaders are 50 or older. Well over half are 60+. Participants in the study age 50-59 made up 32% of the total; age 60-69, 45%; age 70+, 11%.
Today I continue a series of excerpts from my chapter with this same title, “The Future of Associations,” in a new book SBCAL has coming out this summer published by Ranier Publishing, The Baptist Association: Assisting Churches. Advancing the Gospel.
Pastors and Churches Should be Committed
Moving associational ministry to the next level takes not only character, collaborative leadership, and commitment from the AMS, but commitment from the pastors. As Pastor Aaron Menikoff wrote on the Baptist 21 site,
“To put it bluntly, many church pastors have lost an interest in local, Baptist associational life. We are enamored of the state and national work while we ignore the unglamorous work of serving churches who minister in our own backyard.
Why does this matter? Because our denominational life is like a tree. The national entities are the branches spreading across the globe. The state conventions are the trunk, holding the branches in place. But the local associations are the roots. It’s at the associational level that every pastor can be involved. Like a church member who leaves it to the paid staff to do the ministry, I wonder if some pastors have left it to paid staff to do the work of the association.” [i]
This month’s blog is the second of a series based on a chapter by the same title that I wrote in a new book SBCAL has coming out this spring: The Baptist Association: Assisting Churches. Advancing the Gospel. Be on the lookout for it!
Why the Descriptor: Associational Mission Strategist
How did the blue-ribbon Study Team, after months of prayer, research, and study, come up with this new descriptor, Associational Mission Strategist (AMS)?[i] The title came out of the 17 Proficiencies that were agreed upon as most helpful for an associational leader to be successful, regardless of context.
It is my experience and observation of associational leadership transitions that it is usually best if the Associational Leader announces his retirement plans well in advance (3-6 months or more).
Here are some reasons I believe this is helpful for the association and for the Kingdom:
“Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” Proverbs 4:23 (CSB)
In my Quiet Time this month I am reading and praying through Proverbs. Each year I take one month with 31 days and read a chapter in Proverbs each day that month. I have waited until the last month this year because while going through other books of the Bible earlier this year, they always seemed to carry over from one month to the next.
Today being the fourth, I read Proverbs chapter 4. The verse that stood out to me was v. 23. I am reading from the new Christian Standard Study Bible, and I highly recommend it.
In the study notes, it says to guard something is to make sure that it does not get away and that it is safe from attack. I was reminded that I need to guard what I allow my eyes to watch, see, and read, and what my ears listen to each day. By doing so, I will not let my heart stray from God’s Word, and I will protect myself from the fiery darts of the evil one.
I’m Ray Gentry, the husband of Debra & father of April & Allison. I serve over 80 congregations on the southside of Atlanta as Associational Mission Strategist of the Southside Baptist Network. I am also the President/CEO of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL). I’ve served Southern Baptist churches & associations in various roles for over 35 years.