Disclaimer: The thoughts, beliefs, and conclusions drawn belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Port Royal Baptist Church.
This is the second in a series of posts relating to what I believe are the contributing factors to the current decline and future demise of the Baptist association. The first two factors were:
1. Failure to properly train leaders.
2. The choice of pastors/church leaders to be involved in networks as opposed to associations.
3. Inability to effectively assist member churches in navigating the changing culture. The New Testament church is on the front line of ministry, not the Baptist association, or the state conventions for that matter. This may sound a bit strong and even offensive to some. Associations are made up of local churches from which leadership and funding is drawn. Local churches make up the state and national conventions from which leadership and funding is drawn. Our mission boards are made up of missionaries who were called out of and have a relationship with a local church. Funding to keep them on the field comes from local churches that give generously and consistently. Because the local church comes first, associations would not exist without it. It is my belief that the Baptist association exists to assist its member churches with their ministry and not engage in ministry on their behalf. This is the lens that I view everything through.
As the cultural landscape is changing and the church is routinely faced with difficult and problematic scenarios within areas such as traditional marriage, right to life issues, building and constructions needs, child protection, religious liberty, and legal considerations (bylaws, property, human resources, etc.) I believe this is an area where the association can get out front and be of greater assistance. More often than not churches with concerns and needs within these areas are referred to the state convention or other agencies. To be fair, it would be impossible for an association with limited staff and resources to anticipate every need of every member church. I get that. However, if a church feels as if they are on their own when it comes to these challenges in ministry, the association becomes less and less of a priority. The days of “call us if you need us” are long gone. Let me share at least two questions that are not being asked by associational leadership, in my experiences.
1. “What challenges are you facing for the first time as a local church that are the result of a cultural shift?”
2. “How can we walk with you through it?”
4. Duplication of resources. As I mentioned in the previous post in this series, the Baptist association is made up of ministry departments such as Youth Ministry, Men’s Ministry, Women’s Ministry, WMU, Sunday School, Discipleship Training, Stewardship, Pastoral Ministries, VBS. and others. Baptist state conventions have similar departments within their structure as well. As the pastor of a church who is member church of an association and a state convention, I receive a great deal of information and publications twice. Everything I have access to at the associational level I also have access to at the state level. I believe this will grow to be more problematic for the association as time goes on. Churches will begin, if they have not done so already, asking questions such as this one: “If there are resources that I can only find at the state level, and everything I can find at the association can also be found at the state, why not skip the association?” I believe this is a fair question. To be honest, when I am in need or training and assistance, I prefer the state convention. Why? Well, there is a possibility that I may be referred there anyway and we can be resourced faster at the state level. As more and more leadership, training aids, and resources are made available to the churches from the state convention, the Baptist association will find itself in the position of an awkward middleman. This is an unintended consequence of the state convention’s work. I am not sure how the Baptist associations can reverse this trend and become the first choice of its member churches.