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Directors of missions nurture their unity

RIDGECREST, N.C (BP)–For the first time in two decades, Southern Baptist associational leaders gathered for three days of training and shared experience for an Associational Directors of Missions National Convocation.

Sponsored and hosted by the North American Mission Board, the convocation drew more than 400 attendees for the first DOM meeting of its kind since 1989.

No two directors of missions are alike, but they are united in their conviction that God does great things through local congregations.

“This created an environment I’ve not experienced before,” said David Smith, associational director missions for the Austin Baptist Association in Texas. “Getting together with counterparts across the country to learn how we can do our work better — it’s priceless.”

In places like Austin where diversity in ethnicity, religious beliefs and socioeconomic status define the culture, ministry requires a missional approach.

“I reach out to the homeless near our offices,” said Smith, who has helped provide food and Bibles to Austin’s homeless. “I know, though, that I can’t reach them as well as someone who has experienced that lifestyle.”

So a man named Myron, who once lived on the streets of St. Louis, has stepped in to lead the way. Smith said Myron knows the needs of the homeless better than anyone.

“My job is to practice what I encourage others to do,” Smith said, “but it’s also to connect leaders with the tasks they are uniquely called to. I’m here to assist churches in partnering with other churches to fulfill the Great Commission in Austin. And if we do it here, who knows what we can do elsewhere.”

“We are at the 21st-century version of the cutting edge,” said David Meacham, North American Mission Board senior strategist for associations. “Missiology is formed at the level of the association.”

Directors of missions are missionaries who serve associations of local churches through resourcing, leadership, missions vision and, in some cases, mentorship to church leaders.

“I want to bring churches together,” said Gary Johnson, director of missions for the Miami Baptist Association. And in places like Miami and other North American urban contexts, unity among churches is necessary for survival.

But regardless of geography or demographics, associational cooperation is essential for any community of churches to be successful in reaching their areas for Christ. Attendees of the historic meeting -– held at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina — ranged from urban areas in California and the other East and Gulf coasts to the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee to the banks of the Mississippi.

The convocation’s plenary sessions were punctuated by breakouts and workshops where attendees engaged areas of focus such as church planting, evangelism, prayer, technology and church revitalization. Although the variety in their ministries is determined by geography and local culture, DOMs reflected a unity in their mission to mobilize the local church to reach North America and the ends of the earth.

NAMB’s acting interim president, Richard Harris, spoke to the group about the importance of partnerships in order to reach every person in North America with the Gospel.

“We are committed to working with Acts 1:8 partners,” Harris said. “We are not interested in maintaining the status quo and doing religious activities.

“People are reaching out to you and they’re reaching out to me,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘Help! Help!’ Today we need a renewed passion to reach the people of North America.”

Tom Billings, DOM of the Union Baptist Association of 630 Houston-area churches, literally joined churches in reaching out a hand to desperate people in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

Like the Austin Baptist Association following Katrina, the Union Baptist Association has had opportunity to partner with local officials in forming a disaster care network involving church buildings and volunteers.

“Keeping the vision before us so we don’t grow cold is a key part of my job,” Billings said. “We have to be careful not to grow complacent, because we have a big job ahead of us to keep up with population growth and reach the unreached people here and extend outward.”

The directors of missions, who were joined at the convocation by state convention staff, North American Mission Board staff and spouses, were led toward revival by Tom Eliff who called for prayer and spiritual awakening among leaders and churches.

“Our churches are often reflective of the fact that many of us have plateaued in our relationship with God,” said Eliff, a former Southern Baptist Convention president and International Mission Board vice president. “For there to be a great impact for the Great Commission there has to be a great impact of God in our lives.”

David Smith summed it up in an experience with a man named Richard.

“He stood in the street with a can of government-issue chicken and he asked for a can opener. I had just locked the door on the office,” Smith recounted. “The Lord told me, ‘If you miss this opportunity for ministry to this man, your day’s a waste.’

“Our job is about transformed lives — our own and the lives in our communities,” Smith said.
Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine and social media consultant for the North American Mission Board.

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