COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) — Denominational leaders championed the role of the association as partner and doctrinal watchdog during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL) in Columbus, Ohio.
Focusing on the theme, “Ready Churches, Ready Harvest,” based on Matthew 9:37, speakers sought to encourage, inspire and equip about 200 members in attendance June 14–15. The meeting was held the weekend before the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Columbus.
Speakers shared how as young ministers, a local director of missions took them under their wing to guide them through challenging times. “You guys are on the front lines of ministry,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president, who recalled a director of missions who was a “titanic figure” in his own life.
Others shared their efforts to stay connected with the local association, including O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Services, and Steve Bass, North American Mission Board regional vice president. Bass said NAMB is increasing their efforts to “reconnect with the people who are closest to the churches,” as they work together “to implement an Acts 1:8 strategy.”
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said throughout his ministry he has been active in the association, attending meetings to strengthen local churches. “Even if my church didn’t need the work of the association, our churches needed to be needed,” he said.
Challenging days are ahead, Page said, as the role of the association is “changing and morphing” while denominational work is being examined.
Referencing Philippians 1:12, Page urged leaders to “remain relevant in denominational life” by examining their own mindset, motive and methodology.
He told them not to “bemoan the loss of Cooperative Program support” by blaming a younger generation, saying “CP has flattened under our watch.”
Speaking to their “irreducible theological responsibility,” Mohler reminded leaders that many of Southern Baptists’ confessions of faith were named for associations responsible for writing them to maintain theological integrity and define beliefs.
“You have a very crucial role as leaders in the association,” Mohler said, “to stand beside the pastor and encourage them to stand by the task, to stand by the truth and to preach the truth in and out of season.”
While the readiness of the harvest is a given, the readiness of the church “to engage the harvest is the issue at stake,” said Gerald Roe, professor of Intercultural studies at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C.
Satan is constantly attacking the harvest and church, Roe said, however, “The devil’s ultimate objective is the defamation of Jesus, the Lord of the harvest.”
Satan’s “tool of choice for eroding the churches’ confidence in Jesus seems to be the ever present influence and voice of popular culture,” Roe noted.
“If the devil can subvert the integrity of the Lord of the harvest, he can also sabotage the work in the harvest by stymying the readiness of the workers called to the harvest.”
Ken Weathersby, SBC Executive Committee vice president for convention advancement, cited John 13 to challenge and encourage participants to live with joy. He added that does not mean the absence of pain, problems, confusion or conflict.
Living with joy is living with a purpose that Jesus has a plan; it’s not letting the problems of this world “deter what I (Jesus) have called you to do,” he said.
Weathersby urged the associational leaders to live as a servant, with a holy, sanctified life and an intimate relationship with Jesus through prayer. “You are a servant of the Lord and He has you secure in His arms.”
Associational leaders attending shared they valued the spiritual insights and encouraging relationships that result from the annual gathering.
“The director of missions role is one of the most undefined ministries in the SBC network,” said Preston Collins of Norman, Okla. “We need each other to refine each other and talk about specific issues.”
As a new director of missions, David Robert, Bay Area Baptist Association in Michigan, said he found the breakout sessions helpful. “The session on ministry to bivocational pastors was a home run,” he said. “It gave me good ideas of what to look for and consider when working with ‘bi-vo’ pastors in my area.”
Elected as officers for the coming year were Mike Pennington, Bledsoe Association, Gallatin, Tenn., chairman; Tim Pruit, Gila Valley Baptist Association, Phoenix, Az., vice chairman; Philip Price, Jackson County Baptist Association, Pascagoula, Miss., recording secretary; Bob Lowman, Metrolina Baptist Association, Charlotte, N.C., nominating chairman; and Ray Gentry, Southside Baptist Network, McDonough, Ga., conference team leader.
SBCAL will meet next June 12-13.in St. Louis, Mo.