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Associations to mark 300th year

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions will celebrate three centuries of associational work in America during a three-day gathering in San Antonio, June 9-11, prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.

The leader of the national group said he believes the 300th anniversary celebration comes at an appropriate time, when the usefulness of the association is being questioned in some circles of denominational life.

“Some say the association is a dinosaur,” Tom Biles, president of the SBCADOM and director of missions with the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Baptist Association, told Baptist Press. “But my view is that associations are still relevant for today’s churches. God’s work through associations is just as important as it’s ever been.”

Biles said he is certain that associations remain a powerful means of equipping churches for ministry and missions. And the evidence, he said, is easy to see. In his association in Florida, for example, more than 150 churches have been planted in 15 years. Churches in crisis or churches without a pastor, he said, also might not have continued to function if not for the support they had received from the association.

“They would be in dire straits without help, and most of these starts would not be in existence if not for the association,” he said.

Jim Henry, retired longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., will speak to DOMs during the anniversary celebration June 10 at San Antonio’s First Baptist Church. Henry told Baptist Press he was “still praying about what to say to them,” but he acknowledged that DOMs face the challenge of changing times.

“For us at Orlando during my tenure as pastor, we tried always to support the association financially and represent ourselves at meetings, but a lot of things the association did were not geared to our church,” Henry said. “But that didn’t mean we ever wanted to be removed from it.”

Henry said a key component of associational work in the future may be discovering how associations can serve as “a connecting link between large and small churches.” Many large churches or mega-churches, he said, may feel they don’t need an association. Henry said, however, that larger churches should be reminded of the purposes of an association -– cooperative missions and support for smaller, struggling and pastorless churches.

Biles said the meeting of the associational directors of missions will include times of fellowship and teaching, and should be uplifting for directors of missions, their families and staffs. “We believe it will also be a time when God provides additional encouragement and exposure to the work Baptist associations are doing in America,” Biles said.

Members of the organization will participate in Crossover San Antonio, the SBC’s evangelistic outreach to the host city of its annual meeting, June 9. The DOMs will also collect an offering to assist in funding the ministries of the San Antonio Baptist Association.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. will preach at a Sunday morning worship service in the ballrooms of the Crowne Plaza hotel at 10:30 a.m., June 10. Bud and Barbara Lee, music evangelists from Blue Springs , Mo., will lead in worship.

DOMs and the presidents of SBC entities such as LifeWay Christian Resources, Guidestone Financial Resources and the SBC Pastors’ Conference will celebrate the 300th anniversary of Baptist associations at a rally at 3 p.m. at San Antonio’s First Baptist Church that afternoon, with Henry as the keynote speaker.

“One of the things we are most excited about is that the ladies from the Woman’s Missionary Union will be dismissing their afternoon session so they can meet with us,” Biles said. “That, as far as I know, is a first.”

International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin also will address the SBCADOM at 10:45 a.m. June 11.

The first Baptist association was formed in Philadelphia in 1707. That group, made up of only a handful of churches, later adopted a confessional statement, supported the education of ministers and engaged in cooperative missions with other churches and associations. Baptist associations arrived in the South in Charleston, S.C., and Sandy Creek, N.C., soon after. These associations were the forerunners of the Southern Baptist Convention, established in 1845.

Today, the SBCADOM is made up of representatives from 1,192 Baptist associations, representing more than 44,000 cooperating Southern Baptist churches.
For a full schedule of the organization’s activities in San Antonio June 9-11, go to www.sbcadom.net. The SBC annual meeting will take place June 12-13.

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  • Gregory Tomlin