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Directors of missions urged to be more than a program delivery system

PHOENIX (BP)–The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions “needs reinvention,” Don Reed, the organization’s president, said June 15 in Phoenix.

Change is needed, Reed said during the SBCDoM meeting preceding the SBC annual meeting, because Southern Baptist associational directors of missions no longer need to be the delivery systems to local churches for the latest programs developed by national Southern Baptist entities. Instead, he said, their responsibilities must be shaped by the needs of the local churches that form the associations.

“The association is where all the denominational water hits the wheel and many want to use us as their delivery system,” said Reed, a director of missions from Kansas City, Kan. “In the past, associations have often been shaped more by national entities with their need to have local representatives among the churches than it has by the needs of the local churches. The question becomes, ‘How do we work with all Southern Baptists and the entities while accomplishing our task as missionaries in our [geographic] area?'”

With “Missionary at Heart” as the SBCDoM conference theme, Reed said a key challenge for directors of missions is to focus on the tasks of leading people to saving faith in Jesus Christ and planting churches.

“We live in the third-largest unchurched nation in the world,” he said. “People in our pews interact on a daily basis with other cultures and languages. Every church and association must become global in its reach or [both] will be viewed with skepticism as old world.”

Reed said most associational missionaries were comfortable with the “delivery system” role in which they found themselves 30 years ago. “It was not a role we resisted…. [I]t gave us some of our finest days as Southern Baptists.”

Reed, however, cited the “Crack in History” theory introduced in the book “Dancing with Dinosaurs” by Bill Easum, that about every five generations contemporary culture undergoes a “huge disconnect” from the past. In such times all institutions both religious and secular are dismantled and await reinvention by the youngest of the contemporary generations.

“In our generation, change has changed,” Reed said, “from gradual, progressive and predictable to random and episodic change that suddenly and sometimes illogically appears. We must cope with change immediately, and that is the tough part of living in these days.

“I frankly feel that it is the path to the future because in this crack in history we must become experts in understanding and interpreting the fabric of the society and culture to those around us. We must develop missionary eyes.”

Reed drew from his international missionary experience to say that American culture needs to be seen from a fresh perspective. Worldview changes among today’s younger generations and the influx of the world’s various people groups have changed the fabric of the church’s mission field. “We could use cross-cultural skills right here in our homeland,” he said.

“Will the church of today bless and affirm those few among us who are attempting to cross those barriers with the Gospel, or will we ostracize them and criticize their efforts?” he asked.

Reed called his observations “reality reports” that aren’t to be seen as emerging trends but contemporary observations. Another of his observations he labeled, “denominationalism devalued.” He said evidence of this could be seen in a lack of loyalty to a particular denomination — not just the Southern Baptist Convention — and how people look for a church that meets their personal needs.

“Every institution in the Christian world is struggling to redefine itself,” he said. “Unfortunately, most efforts [at change] I observe, especially at the national level — but also on the associational and state levels — are old denominationalism revisited.”

Reed said he could not offer any solutions for how to meet the challenges associational directors of missions face, but he advocated change from an organization that meets once annually to a year-round organization to strengthen associations to accomplish relevant ministry. The purpose of the shift, he said, would be to better understand how to help churches minister and to use that knowledge to encourage national Southern Baptist entities to be more resourceful in the products and programs they produce for local churches.

During the conference’s business sessions, new officers were elected including Jim Freedman of the Nashville Baptist Association as president; first vice president, Nodell Dennis of the Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association in Missouri; and second vice president, Eddie Miller of the Sierra Baptist Association in Nevada.