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.
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?
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1-4, CSB)
Just as it is important for Christians to vote, it is important that we pray for our leaders. If you are like me, you are weary of attack ads by both parties and by many candidates.
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%.
If ever we needed to keep our focus on the Lord, the Gospel, and the truths of God’s Word over the media, social media, and competing voices, it is now.
James 1:2-4 gives us a God’s perspective on how to act and react to the trials He allows us to experience: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing." (CSB)
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.”
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.