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.
I believe for associations to be most effective, they should be Gospel-centered, Gospel-driven. J.D. Greear says in Above All,
“Everything we do in ministry should flow from or lead toward making disciples… Making disciples is the primary calling of the church. Our mission. Our purpose. This means the criteria upon which any church should measure its success is ‘not how many new names are added to the roll, nor how much the budget is increased.’ Not even close. The success of the church is in how many Christians are actively making disciples and training them to win the multitudes…To reach more people, we don’t need better gathering techniques; we need a more intentional focus on discipleship… Discipleship is more about opening up your life than walking someone through a program.” [i]
The forward to The Gospel-Driven Church clarifies the meaning of the term “Gospel-driven”:
“A gospel-driven church cares about width and depth. Churches that grow deep without growing wide are probably not as deep in Jesus as they think because Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. In the same way, churches that grow wide without growing deep are probably not as wide as they think because heaven counts disciples, not decisions. A church’s ultimate impact is not only measured by the disciples it makes but in making disciples who make disciples.” [ii]
How do we become Gospel-driven? One way is to lead your pastors in Pastor Cohorts to study books like the ones quoted above. Pastors are discouraged. Let’s get back to biblically-based metrics rather than using the world’s metrics to measure success. Another way to become Gospel-driven is to offer conferences (or promote attendance at conferences) such as Robby Gallaty’s Replicate Ministries on how pastors and church leaders can make disciples who make disciples.
The future of associationalism is as bright as the promises of God because associations are all about assisting God’s churches. Assisting God’s churches requires associational leaders who humbly, faithfully, creatively, and effectively serve the Lord by serving their pastors and churches. In addition, assisting God’s churches requires pastors and church leaders who are supportive of joint mission and ministry efforts among their local Baptist churches.
To the praise of His glory,
Quotable Quote: Great leaders carry open notebooks. Careless or close-minded leaders don’t.
You’ll see top leaders always taking notes, whether that’s on their phone or in a physical notebook. Carey Nieuwhof, 7 Easy Ways to Blow It with a Mentor, 6.21.20
[ii] Jared Wilson, The Gospel-Driven Church (Zondervan, 2019), p. 13