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Associational leaders announce record-breaking membership and budget at annual conference

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler addressed members of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders Sunday, June 9, in Indianapolis. Photo by Robin Cornetet

INDIANAPOLIS (BP) – The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL) passed its largest budget ever on Sunday (June 9) at its annual meeting in Indianapolis.

The budget comes on the heels of one of the strongest years in the organization’s 64-year history. SBCAL membership now tops 700, a 27 percent increase over last year. The growth comes a year after the organization made Ray Gentry its first full-time president/CEO.

SBCAL is a grassroots, self-funded organization that “equips, encourages and networks associational leaders for greater effectiveness in God’s kingdom.” It meets annually in the days preceding the SBC Annual Meeting.

“I hope the association leaders leave encouraged and inspired, realizing even more the importance of their role and feeling a sense of community with like-minded brothers in Christ,” Gentry said. “They should know they have a brotherhood that supports them.”

More than 400 associational leaders participated in day one of the meeting.

Budget passes, new leaders elected unanimously

SBCAL leaders unanimously passed a proposed budget of $299,100, an increase of 23 percent over the previous year. The additional funding will allow for additional ministry support for Baptist associational leaders, including a retreat to be held in Tennessee next year.

SBCAL also unanimously elected a slate of new associational members to the executive team through 2027, including:

  • Nathan Carter (Illinois)
  • Daniel Clark (Arkansas)
  • Craig Tuck (South Carolina)
  • Tony Wolfe (South Carolina Baptist Convention, Executive Director)

David Bowman of Texas will chair the executive team in the upcoming year.

SBCAL members heard four proposed amendments to the constitution and bylaws. Among them was an update of the organization’s official priorities, to include leadership development, associational advocacy, succession planning and development pathways. SBCAL members voted on these changes the next day in a business session.

During his Sunday lunchtime president’s report, Gentry shared a number of key successes from the past year, including the SBCAL’s record-breaking membership totals. Not only has the group grown by 27 percent in the past year, but it has nearly doubled its membership since 2021.

“We’re not doing what we’re doing to grow the organization so much as to serve better, you know, and serve more people,” Gentry said. “Ultimately, we want to help associational leaders be more effective in the Great Commission, in assisting churches, and advancing the Gospel.”

Other highlights from the year include:

  • In March, SBCAL launched a new weekly podcast where associational leaders can find regular training content.

  • Sixteen state Baptist conventions are partnering with SBCAL to pay for the annual membership dues of associational leaders in their states.

  • The Associational Membership Task Force created a toolbox resource to help associational leaders navigate welcoming new churches to their associations and providing clarity as churches leave.

Lambert encourages associational leaders to stay focused

Heath Lambert, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., preached a message of encouragement for SBC associational leaders during the worship service from Philippians 2.

Lambert noted ministry is hard, but he referenced the theme verse for the conference, 1 Corinthians 9:24, to urge attendees to stay resilient and focused on the ultimate prize.

“The apostle Paul means to give you encouragement with those words,” Lambert said. “He says, ‘Guys, it’s a race.’ It’s hot and sweaty out there, but keep running. This is the most important race of your life. Go after it. There’s a prize out there for you. Don’t think about the heat and the sweat. Don’t think about how tired you are. Don’t think about hating your muscles. Run the race so that you can win.”

Lambert emphasized three specific messages of encouragement from Philippians 2.

  • Jesus notices you even when you feel like no one else does.

  • Leaders can have confidence in their effectiveness when they hold fast to God’s Word.

  • Leaders can fight isolation by pouring themselves into others.

“I want to encourage you if you feel like nobody notices you’re shining, you’re shining,” Lambert said. “If you feel like you’re not making a difference, wait until Jesus comes back, and you will see what you have done as you faithfully stand on the Word. In the meantime, when you feel alone, don’t let yourself get alone. Pour into your people and let them pour into you. I hope that’s an encouragement to you on this Lord’s day.”

Mohler encourages ‘convictional leadership

Speaking on Joshua 1:8, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler presented a vision of convictional leadership in the context of associational ministry.

“My understanding of convictional leadership, in a biblical sense, is that it is translating convictions into common action,” Mohler said. “It’s common action that leads to common faithfulness. And that’s what I hope I’ve been about for several decades. That’s what I would encourage you in terms of your work as leaders, and also as you’re trying to raise up other leaders and encourage them.”

These convictions, he added, aren’t just the right beliefs. They are beliefs that are “so settled in our hearts, so central to our thinking, so essential to our frame, that we don’t know who we are without them.”

Mohler concluded his talk by thanking associational leaders for the unique role they serve within the Southern Baptist Convention. 

“I want to thank you for your faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for translating conviction,” Mohler said. “Thank you for encouraging pastors to translate conviction into leadership. Thank you for planting churches and nourishing them and thank you for being there when many churches need some help. You’re the one on the spot to give that help. You may never be thanked for that until you get to heaven.”

ARITF gives updates, answers questions

SBCAL annual conference attendees ended their day with an update from the SBC Abuse Reform and Implementation Task Force. Task force members shared with attendees the three priorities they worked on throughout the year and described in their report released last week.

ARITF members introduced the new free five-part curriculum, called “Essentials: Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response,” that aims to help churches of any size prevent and respond to sexual abuse. They also updated SBCAL members on the Ministry Check website and the effort to find a permanent home for abuse reform within the SBC.

“Our churches overwhelmingly want to do the right thing,” said Joshua Wester, the chair of ARITF. “What we have found is a lack of clarity about what they’re supposed to do. They need access to good information and resources.”

ARITF answered several questions from SBCAL leaders about how they can help churches in their associations better care for sexual abuse survivors and prevent future abuse.

The ARITF will give its report to the annual meeting messengers on Tuesday, June 11, at 3:15pm.

SBCAL also welcomed all six SBC presidential candidates to a roundtable to discuss their ideas about the role of local Baptist associations to Southern Baptist life. A Tuesday Baptist Press article will include more information about the roundtable.