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.

DiscipleNow : Uncensored 2011

We had the opportunity this past weekend to host a DiscipleNow weekend at Port Royal Baptist Church. The theme for this year was “Uncensored”, calling on students to live a life uncensored for God and making personal purity a life priority. Over the course of the Friday-Sunday, there was an average of 80 students in attendance. Six churches came together to make this weekend possible; Port Royal Baptist, Shell Point Baptist, St Helena Baptist, Pine Level Baptist, Grays Hill Baptist, and Praise Assembly. We were blessed with the worship band “Soul” who led in worship the entire weekend and did a phenomenal job communicating the power and worth of God through music.

  

It was a blessing to see what unfolded over the weekend. As the students split into their small groups (middle school boys, middle school girls, high school boys, high school girls) leaders were able to share God’s desire for their purity on a level they could understand. Thank you small group leaders. Students went to the gym wall and put their prayer concerns in writing. Students laughed together, cried together, worshipped together, and prayed together. It truly was a moving experience.

  

I had the privilege as a pastor to spend some time with our students and student leaders over the weekend. As I watched individual student pastors work with their students and work with each other, it is clear they have a heart for the Lord and for students. I want to say how very proud I am of the student pastors that worked so hard for so many moths in order to make this weekend a reality. As I reflect on this weekend, a few thoughts come to mind.

1. Although teenagers may dress differently, speak differently, and worship differently than adults, those differences in no way diminish their heart and desire for God.

2. It speaks volumes to the power of the Holy Spirit when teenagers openly admit their sin before their peer group that is often their toughest critic.

3. I do not know who said that teenagers only think of themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.

4. Student pastors are, in my book, both awesome and under-appreciated. I admire greatly those leaders who work full time and yet give full time love and commitment to their students.

To the best of our knowledge, four students made professions of faith in Christ over the weekend. For this, we rejoice. Many more made commitments to purity and to a closer walk with the Lord. In this, we rejoice. I want to thank every church and volunteer who had a part in this weekend’s event. From this pastor, I appreciate you. To the people of Port Royal Baptist Church, thank you for opening the doors and letting the students in.

Annie Armstrong Easter Offering; A Missions Offering That Goes To Missions

Spring brings many things. Some wanted and some unwanted. This time of the year we see the blooming of flowers, warmer weather, and baseball. Spring also brings pollen and a time change. I look forward to spring because we have the opportunity and privilege to participate in the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missionaries. Our Southern Baptist missionaries serving in North America are supported by the gifts that Southern Baptist churches give through the AAEO. I’m very proud to serve in a denomination where the work of our missionaries on both home and foreign soil continues uninterrupted. Think about this for a moment. Our missionaries don’t have to leave the field to travel back to their home churches, or set up speaking engagements, in order to raise the funding for the work they have been called by God to do. Through the cooperative efforts and gifts of all Southern Baptist churches to this missions offering, the fields are not vacated and the message of Jesus Christ remains present and consistent. I think this is truly amazing.

As a pastor, I am comforted by the idea that I can stand before the people that I lead and with confidence assure them that every penny that is given to the AAEO in the name of missions actually goes to mission work in North America. From the North American Missions Board’s website, “When people give to the offering, 100 percent of their gift will be transformed into missionary salaries and ministry supplies. Those missionaries and supplies will help others hear the message of Christ and respond in faith to His offer of salvation. Time and again our missionaries relate how the offering is their lifeblood. They know that behind each penny given, there is a Southern Baptist who believes in what they do and are affirming the need to equip them to share the gospel with those who need a Savior.” This is critical to the local congregation. The people of God who pray and give sacrificially to this effort, and other missions efforts, deserve this kind of confidence. The confidence of knowing that missions gifts are used solely for mission work accomplishes at least two things.

 First, the local congregation can give, with a sense of peace, and what may already be limited funds, knowing their gifts can positively affect the need presented to them.

 Second, when funds are used for the stated purpose, a greater sense of trust is established between the local congregation and the leadership who encourage them to give.

We are participating in the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering this year. I believe in it. I believe in the work of our North American missionaries. We are fortunate to have a missionary on staff with us in our local Baptist association. We are able to see the some of the results of the gifts given to the AAEO in our local communities through his ministry with us. Our goal this year is $2500. Will we make it? I don’t know. What I do know is this. Whether we raise $2500, $250, or $25 matters less than the knowledge that every dime given goes to actual missions work across North America. To me, that is satisfying.

Something Happened at the Associational Meeting Last Night

Last night I attended the Savannah River Baptist Association Annual Meeting, my first as pastor of Port Royal. My initial impressions are mixed. I liked some of the things I saw. I did not like some of the things I saw. These meetings are fairly predictable. I’ve attended and moderated enough of them to know what will usually happen. Reports are given, officers are presented, and budgets are adopted. This year, instead of an inspirational message, updates were given from some of our churches as to how God was blessing their ministries. I found this encouraging.

Normally, I find the business part of these meetings the most interesting. Sounds funny, I know. I enjoy that kind of stuff. Something was different for me last night. The music during the worship sessions was outstanding. The songs that were chosen were right on time and stirred my heart. Of the many songs that were done, one stands out. That  song is “You Never Let Go” by Matt Redman. The chorus goes like this:

Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
In every high and every low
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me

I kept thinking to myself how appropriate that song is for this time. Some of our people have deep burdens on their heart and life. This was a powerful reminder that God, regardless of what we may be going through, does not let go of us. As I look out on the bay while I write this, I can see boats with anchors out. The anchors are holding those boats in place, not letting go. Our God is that anchor in our lives. He holds us. He helps us. He keeps us. He protects us. He provides for us. He doesn’t let go. Our worship time last night was a welcome and needed reminder.

Something happened at the associational meeting last night. I arrived believing I knew what the night was going to hold for me. I left thankful that God can use the seeming predictable times in life to show Himself to us.