What Should Be The Standard of Cooperation In The Local Baptist Association?

Cooperation is the tie that binds in the local Baptist association. Cooperation is vital. Cooperation is fragile. Cooperation must be fostered and nurtured. Cooperation is what defines us as Southern Baptists. In a Baptist association, individual churches make the decision to come together and share resources, spiritual gifts, spaces, and finances as they work together toward a common agreed upon goal. The goal is different in every association and can be cloudy and undefined at times. Certainly the goal, at the minimum, should be the desire to see the Great Commission fulfilled. It is also  the prerogative of every local association to determine what it will accept from its member churches as the minimal level of participation as a cooperating church. The choice that is made here is so very important. This decision says a great deal about what the association values. It says a great deal about what the association pursues as its passion. This decision is often reflected in its governing documents. It must be remembered that the association is, at best, a “para-church” organization. The church has the final authority in the matter of contribution or affiliation with the association or any other institution.

I serve a church in the Savannah River Baptist Association which has 33 churches and missions. From where I sit, there seems to be some uncertainty as to what the standard of cooperation is. A standard is defined as “a basis for comparison; a reference point against which other things can be evaluated.” If there is no clearly defined statement of faith (i.e. Baptist Faith and Message) put forward by the association to unite the churches, everything becomes subjective. The Savannah River Baptist Association has no such defining statement of faith. It is this uncertainty that I want to write about openly, honestly, and in a way that is educational. Should the standard of cooperation be member participation, financial contribution, or something else all together?

Associations can choose to adopt (whether written or unwritten) the standard of member participation. This standard says that each church is expected to actively participate in and contribute to the events, fellowships, and decision making process of the association. The association as a whole benefits when this happens. When all of the member churches come together and share their talents, knowledge, and resources, the whole association prospers. There are some member churches who feel the association has nothing to offer them. That may be true. However, the member church that thinks this way may have much in the way of knowledge, experience, and resources to give that the remainder of the association could benefit from. I personally believe that participation is much more than just sending in a check every month. Looking at the  attendance numbers of both the spring and fall sessions of the Savannah River Baptist Association from 2000-2010 (11 years), I want to make a few observations. (The following numbers are based on 30 churches. Three of our churches are new works and were not active this entire time period).

* In the 11 year period between 2000-2010, 13 churches sent representatives to the Spring Session of the SRBA 6 or fewer times.

* In the 11 year period between 2000-2010, 17 churches sent representatives to the Spring Session of the SRBA 7 or more times.

* In the 11 year period between 2000-2010, 10 churches sent representatives to the Fall Session of the SRBA 6 or fewer times.

* In the 11 year period between 2000-2010, 20 churches sent representatives to the Spring Session of the SRBA 7 or more times.

* In the 11 year period between 2000-2010, 1 church sent no representatives to the Spring Session of the SRBA at all.

* In the 11 year period between 2000-2010, 2 churches sent no representatives to the Fall Session of the SRBA at all.

I am certain that churches have their own reasons why they don’t participate. Perhaps they feel the association has nothing to offer them. Perhaps they feel they are not being led adequately. Perhaps they feel abandoned. Perhaps they feel their local church work is more vital. I don’t know.

An association can also choose to adopt (whether written or unwritten) a standard of financial contribution. This standard would say that the financial gifts (frequency and amount) a member church gives defines whether or not they are cooperating. I believe there is a reality that we can all agree upon. Ministry requires money. This is true from the church pew to the foreign mission field. In all fairness, in the same way not all churches participate all the time, not every church financially supports the association every single month. This is no secret. I don’t know what the reasons are for this. Perhaps the reasons are the same as above. Perhaps they are completely different. There is one major difference. How you handle the two.

In my estimation, again, this is simply my opinion, I sense our association leaning toward the position that the standard of cooperation should be financial contribution. Our association will be voting on a significant overhaul of the Constitution/By-Laws in October. There are some really good things I agree with, and some not-so-good things I don’t agree with contained in this revision. The wording of this new document seems to speak to what I am have written here. Here is an example from that revision. Under the present constitution, there is a section entitled “Non-Reporting Churches” and it reads like this:

“When churches fail to support the work of the Association a committee appointed by the moderator shall consult with said church as to their desire and intent to continue in fellowship.”

This seems to allow for a variety of issues to be dealt with, whether those issues are lack of participation, financial, or doctrinal. Now, the proposed revision renames “Non-Reporting Churches” to “Non-Supporting Churches” and reads as follows:

“If a church fails to financially support the work of the Association, the Moderator shall request the Finance Committee to consult with said church to encourage its continued fellowship with and support of the Association. The Finance Chair shall report their findings, with or without recommendation(s), to the Executive Board at its next meeting.”

This proposed revision zeroes in exclusively on the financial aspect of support and participation. I believe the intention is very clear. How else could this be perceived, except that the member church’s  financial gift is what matters most. If this were not so, why then would the Finance Committee be asked to “consult with said church to encourage its continued fellowship with and support of the Association.”? If you combine past practices with the proposed policy, here is what you will get, whether intended or unintended: “It’s alright if you don’t come see us, just send your check. However, if you stop sending your check, we’ll come see you.”

Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts. This is a dialogue that we need to have.

3 thoughts on “What Should Be The Standard of Cooperation In The Local Baptist Association?

  1. Pastor. I enjoyed reading this article. As you may or may not know by now, as the daughter of an ordained fundamental Baptist minister but one who was never “under” an association, I am fairly unused to association ways, policies, etc. Before moving to South Carolina, I was a member of a a Baptist church under the Conservative Baptists and in dad’s last church (one of those he planted), although a “Bible Church”/nondenom., we used Regular Baptist Press materials, generally (however, in regard to materials, we used those the Lord led us to use that we felt worked best with our people). Aside from that, I find it difficult at times adjusting to what I view as the uniformity approach of being under an association. Please don’t get me wrong! I DO see the reasons for it and the advantages. I just may bristle a bit and back off if something hits me wrong (and to clarify that word, I don’t mean “wrong” as in “wrong”, but “wrong” as in not a good “fit” for me)!

    However, in regard to your post. I think stressing the continued involvement of member churches is important. Finding out why a church is drawing away or in some other area not showing involvement through the means mentioned in the post is good. Stressing financial obligations over all else would seem to be a mistake, because, as you wrote, the attitude could develop that all is well as long as we mail in a check! Has anyone ever surveyed member churches as a way of finding out as much information as possible about each church, what their goals are, what their challenges are, and what kind of relationship they want with the association? Individual association meetings with head or area representatives with each member church might prove effective, too…almost like a one-on-one/hands-on approach.

    Just my thoughts and I also realize my suggestions may already be in place!

  2. Sharon,

    Thanks for commenting. As far as “being under” and association in the sense that they have control or make decisions for the church, that we are not. Ours, or any other church’s participation in the local association of churches is entirely voluntary. In Southern Baptist life, we come together under the adage that “we can do more together than we can apart”. I believe this is true. It is becoming more challenging for associations as the ministries of the local churches change and evolve. The Baptist association has drifted away from its original purpose and has taken on what it was never intended to be involved in. I believe this is one of the ground-level problems that have us where we are today. I have written about this here. https://stevenruff.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/the-baptist-association-part-1-purpose/.

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