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Baptist association unites large, small churches

EDITOR’S NOTE: Baptist Association Emphasis is May 15-22 in the Southern Baptist Convention.

COLUMBUS, Miss. (BP) — The Golden Triangle Baptist Association defies the stereotype that large churches tend not to be involved in their local Baptist associations.

Large and small churches cooperate eagerly in this three-county association in eastern Mississippi. Last summer, Shawn Parker, pastor of a church with 600 in worship, preached a revival at a church of 60; the pastor of a church with 1,100 in worship, Chip Stevens, serves as the current associational moderator; and pastors of churches ranging in size from 30-250 meet weekly for fellowship.

In terms of financial support, two of the association’s largest churches — First Baptist Church in Starkville and First Baptist Church in Columbus — each give approximately $15,000 annually to the Golden Triangle Association’s work, with First Baptist Starkville contributing an additional $19,000 to the Mississippi State University Baptist Student Union, a joint ministry of the association and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

Two churches with fewer than 100 in worship told Baptist Press they support the association with 3 and 4 percent of their undesignated receipts respectively.

And such cooperation continues despite the current lack of an associational missions director to coordinate the effort following the retirement of Dan Robertson at the end of 2015.

Parker, pastor of First Baptist Columbus and immediate past associational moderator, told BP First Baptist is involved in the Golden Triangle Association because no church is large enough reach its community for Christ alone.

“We have three to five larger churches in the Columbus/Lowndes County area,” Parker said. “But not everybody’s interested in that kind of church. A lot of people are more interested in a smaller church that has more of a family feel.

“So if we here at First Baptist Church Columbus are really interested in reaching Columbus and Lowndes County, we need those kinds of churches. It’s in our best interest therefore, so far as the Kingdom is concerned, for us as a larger church to make sure that those kinds of smaller churches exist,” Parker said.

One smaller church Parker has personally assisted is Faith Baptist Church in West Point, Miss., which averages 50-60 in worship. When Parker preached a three-day revival there last summer, “the church enjoyed it,” Faith pastor Ben Yarber told BP.

Out of Yarber’s 44 years in the pastorate, 28 have been at Golden Triangle Association churches. Of the approximately 30 men called to ministry under Yarber’s pastorates, three pastor in the Golden Triangle Association currently.

Parker “calls me a legend,” Yarber said, though he is quick to deflect praise to God, joking that Parker’s compliment merely reflects the fact “I’m old and gray and decrepit.”

Doran Henry, pastor of Siloam Baptist Church in West Point, which averages approximately 60 in worship, told BP the Golden Triangle Association benefits small churches significantly.

The 4 percent of undesignated receipts Siloam gives to ministry through the association is “pretty significant for a church of our size,” Henry said. “When we try to do things on our own, we’re not as capable of doing that as when we pool our resources together through the association.”

Associational Vacation Bible Schools in under-reached neighborhoods, a Christian Women’s Job Corps hosted by First Baptist Starkville and an International Friendship House at Mississippi State to reach international students and their families are among the associational ministries cited by Henry. He also noted the association plays a role in supporting BSUs at Mississippi University for Women and one campus of East Mississippi Community College.

Financially, Henry said, larger churches have the opportunity to be special blessings to the association when they support such ministries. Even though associational work “is not about money,” he said, associational ministries require money to continue. Larger churches can contribute more money while sacrificing the same percentage of their receipts as small churches.

Stevens, pastor of First Baptist Starkville and chair of the associational missions director search committee, told BP the congregation “has always been heavily involved” in the Golden Triangle Association. He believes an association’s larger churches have a responsibility to steward their resources to benefit other congregations in the area.

“A large church is fortunate enough to be able to assist in ways that maybe smaller churches can’t,” Stevens said. “To whom much is given, much is required. I believe in churches partnering together and cooperating with each other. Larger churches generally do have larger facilities, so they can host things. Also, in a larger church like ours, we have multiple staff members … who can share some of the training they have with other churches.”

Conversely, Stevens said he receives benefit from the association as well. On a personal level, interactions with small church and bivocational pastors have made him more effective in ministry, he said.

“There’s a lot of wisdom that comes from the bivocational pastor,” Stevens said. “I’ve picked up some things from the guy who works a different job during the week but who pastors in addition to that. That person brings something completely different to the table and helps you learn the perspective of the people in the pew much better than we in fulltime ministry are able to understand.”

Parker, of First Baptist Columbus, spent nearly an hour during the past month meeting with a smaller church pastor and discussing a challenge at the man’s church related to leadership structure.

“He needed somebody to talk to,” Parker said. “He left feeling better, and he left with me feeling better as well” for the opportunity to help a brother in Christ.

The Golden Triangle Association’s sense of comradery makes Parker hopeful for the future.

“We’ve had a very vibrant associational work during the 13 years that I’ve been here,” Parker said, “and I think it’s going to continue.”