Have you ever considered the possibility of your association merging with a neighboring association? There are usually good reasons to do so. This month I seek to answer these questions: “Why should associations consider merging?” “When should associations consider merging?” and “What are some obstacles to associations merging?”
I hope you had a refreshing time with family and friends during the Christmas and New Year’s break. I did.
One of the things I have learned and applied from reading James Clear’s blog a couple of years ago is how to become a steady reader instead of just an occasional one. For many years I have wanted to read more books than I have actually been able to do. I would start and stop - perhaps read one book, but then go months before picking up another one. James had the same problem. He found that if he read just 20 pages a day that he would be able to read well over 30 books a year.
I often hear Associational Mission Strategists (AMSs) say they have difficulty connecting and engaging the pastors of larger churches in their associations. It can be difficult – especially if the larger churches feel that they do not “need” the association, or that the association is not “adding value” to them. Sometimes these pastors do not perceive much value being given even to their normative size church peers. What are some ways an AMS can effectively engage his larger churches?
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%.
As the President of SBCAL, I am concerned about, connecting with, and resourcing associational leaders across the country. I believe associationalism in the SBC is experiencing something of a renaissance. Dr. Ronnie Floyd, President/CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, gave a ringing endorsement of associations in our new book, The Baptist Association: Assisting Churches, Advancing the Gospel. Dr. Paul Chitwood and Dr. Kevin Ezell wrote chapters in the book on the value of associations from their perspectives, and Kevin authorized NAMB to pay for the first printing of our book and the mailing of a copy to all 1100+ associations. The 17 Proficiencies of an Effective Associational Leader in the book are resonating with state convention and SBC leaders and some seminaries. Please pray with us that each of our seminaries will have professors who will include our book as a required or supplemental textbook in Baptist history, or other courses.
Overall, I believe associations led by effective leaders are gaining influence and proving their effectiveness to their pastors and churches as well as to state convention and SBC leaders.
But many people are understandably frustrated with the present and profoundly worried about the future. This includes our pastors and even ourselves, at times. David Franklin, a fellow Georgia AMS says, “Our pastors are stressed.”
AMSs Should Work with the Willing
In the 1990s, Mike Perry, a former leader at what is now LifeWay, gave me and other associational leaders some of the best advice I have ever heard for associational leaders: "Work with the willing.” He emphasized that there will always be some pastors and church leaders who will not like you or work with you. Don’t focus on them. Love them. Be there for them in their time of need, but keep your focus on the Lord and those who want to work with you. “Work with the willing” is helpful to remember when you get frustrated when a pastor or a church does not want to participate or contribute or cooperate with their sister churches in associational missions.
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 I want to begin sharing excerpts from my chapter with this same title, “The Future of Associations,” in a new book SBCAL has coming out in June published by Rainer Publishing, The Baptist Association: Assisting Churches. Advancing the Gospel.
In this book, we have learned about the history, heritage, and hallmarks of associations and associational leaders. Now we come to the hope, the future of associationalism in the Southern Baptist Convention. We must keep in mind that churches formed each association to be a help to them in advancing the Gospel. If an association is not helping, it will sooner or later be perceived as irrelevant (and rightly so).
This month’s blog is the fourth and final one in 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!
What are the Attributes of an Effective AMS?
After being involved in associational ministry in various ways for over 35 years, including serving as the associational leader of five associations, I believe the following attributes—as well as the proficiencies in this book—should guide the effective AMS:
This month’s blog is the third in 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!
Role Summary: Mission Strategist, Minister to Ministers, Model Leader
AMSs wear many hats, but I like to summarize the role into Mission Strategist, Minister to Ministers, and Model Leader of the association. As the descriptor indicates, an AMS should be an effective mission strategist. He should know and exegete his mission field, seeking to make the needs known so that pastors and churches do not overlook or ignore unreached people groups in the mission field in which they live. These could be multifamily housing units, various ethnicities, or neighborhoods or communities without a Gospel witness. Everybody’s job is nobody’s job. Encourage churches to adopt neighborhoods, schools, fire stations, and police stations to love and to live out being the hands and feet of Jesus.
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.