JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist associations and state conventions must face the challenges of the present in order to be viable forces in the denomination, a Baptist director of missions said.
Since the first Baptist association was established in 1707 in Philadelphia, the association has continued to evolve, said Mike Day, director of missions for the Mid-South Baptist Association, based in Memphis, Tenn.
After state conventions came into being and the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845, their roles have become intertwined, Day noted during an address on “The Future of Baptist Associations and State Conventions” at the Baptist Identity Conference Feb. 15-17 at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
Baptist associations began to face an identity crisis after state conventions and the SBC came on the scene, Day said. That crisis heightened after the SBC Cooperative Program was established in 1925 and state conventions were given the assignment of collecting and dispersing those funds three years later.
Now, as the SBC continues to grow and change, both Baptist associations and state conventions are “wrestling with the dilemma of creating a denominational brand in a post-denominational world,” Day said.
“Both state conventions and Baptist associations are seeking to be relevant,” he said.
Much of what occurs in Southern Baptist life related to its various levels (national convention, state conventions, associations), Day said, is confusing to members of local churches.
As a result, Baptist associations and state conventions are dealing with the “predicaments of the present,” Day told participants at the conference.
Those predicaments include:
— The duplicated-effort syndrome. “We do the same things at a lot of different levels,” Day said, adding that some associations can assess, train and deploy a church planter. Those same services also are provided by state conventions and the North American Mission Board. He noted that the size and success of the SBC have created a duplication of services.
— The institution-first syndrome. Day said there are institutions to be cared for, especially on the state convention level. “These are not bad things, but they are expensive things,” he said. “Our need to provide, educate and edify pushed us into the institution business.”
— The autonomous hierarchy syndrome. Every entity, beginning at the local church, is autonomous. “But we behave as if we require approval of others or that we have the right to approve. It is an implied hierarchy,” Day said, adding that the problem with this predicament is that the “church winds up at the bottom of the pile. In Scripture, the church is on top of the pile.”
— The codified cooperation syndrome. Day observed that the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 issues a strong set of parameters for how Baptists cooperate. “Yet, almost daily we try to further define what it means to cooperate as Baptists,” he said. “The Baptist Faith and Message is enough to define us.”
— The thinly spread missions dollars syndrome. “Our missions dollars are thinning out,” Day said. Simply put, fewer dollars are being shared with more ministries at all levels.
— The lost influence syndrome. “We have lost our influence as denominational entities in resourcing churches to do their jobs. Consequently, churches have lost their influence in the world,” Day said.
The options Southern Baptists have in dealing with the predicaments are to either start a new association or state convention or to establish a new paradigm for associations, Day said, listing several elements of a new paradigm, including:
— It is church-driven. “A new paradigm affirms the Great Commission was given to churches and not a denomination,” he said.
— It is priority-based, focused on church starting, church mobilization and leadership development.
— It is to be resource-focused. Under the new paradigm, the association would have no programs to maintain. “It uses collective resources to assist churches in fulfilling the mission God has given to them,” he said.
— It is institution-free. “The association of the future may have to own a building but does not have to own camps, ministry centers or schools,” Day said. “That does not mean associations would not support those institutions. It just means they would not own them.”
— It will be strategically managed, staffed by directors of missions who are catalytic and facilitative in their leadership.
— It will be regionally located but not geographically bound.
“It is time for us to apply appropriate pressure and stop the bleeding,” Day said. “It is time to eliminate the things that are not contributing to the Kingdom of God.”