INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–More than 200 directors of missions focused on the theme, “Building Healthy Associations in the 21st Century” during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions June 13-14 in Indianapolis.
Speakers at the meeting included James T. Draper Jr., Jim Freedman, Thom Rainer, Jerry Rankin, O.S. Hawkins, Gary Frost and Robert E. Reccord.
Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that Southern Baptists must “re-image” the concept of an association if associational missions are to operate effectively in the 21st century.
Since the 1950s, associations have tended to organize ministries based primarily upon pragmatic considerations, he said. But a biblically functioning association must move beyond pragmatism and ground its work in scriptural truth.
“We have to find a renewal for the association in biblical terms,” Draper said. “Any approach to the association that does not land squarely on the revealed Word of God will not last. There’s no place for any entity in Baptist life that does not have its foundation in the Word of God.”
One biblically based function of associations is to encourage vibrant fellowship between Christians and Jesus Christ, he said.
“My hope for the association and the only hope is that we have a group of churches and believers that have fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ,” Draper said. “… Your first responsibility as an agent of spiritual change will be to call churches into fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Revitalizing associational work is vital for Southern Baptists because the association creates unique opportunities for churches to minister to people across a broad cultural spectrum, he said.
“How do churches across the socioeconomic spectrum join together to be all things to all men?” Draper asked. “They do it through the koinonia of the association. … The only vehicle in Baptist life that actually allows members of a local church to become all things to all men is the local association.”
Freedman, president of the SBCADOM and executive director of the Nashville Baptist Association, said that churches must cooperate in missions and evangelism if they hope to fulfill the Great Commission in their communities.
“I call all of the more than 1,200 Baptist associations across our convention to be on mission for Christ,” Freedman said. “And as we work together let’s pray for God to strengthen our reach together so that the Gospel can be taken to every lost person in the United States and along with that, to the world.”
God intends for local churches to serve as the primary vehicles for reaching the world with the Gospel, he said. But associations bear the responsibility of assisting local churches in this work.
“It’s our commission then as the 1,200-plus Southern Baptist associations to be in fellowship and on mission, individually and together, to pray for people, care for people and share Jesus with people.”
Thom Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that associations must stop being satisfied with mediocrity in the area of evangelism. Instead they must strive to reach lost people with unceasing passion, he said.
Citing statistics compiled by the Rainer Group church consulting firm, Rainer said that it currently takes 85 Southern Baptists to reach one lost person for Christ. In addition, 48 percent of Southern Baptist pastors have not shared Christ with anyone in the past three months, he said.
“When half of our pastors…. do not have the burning to reach people for Christ, we are satisfied with mediocrity and we have not ascended to the greatness that God has called us to,” Rainer said.
To remedy this mediocrity in evangelism DOMs must develop accountability relationships with pastors and encourage them to share the message of Christ regularly, he said. DOMs can also promote evangelism by helping churches understand the importance of inviting lost people to church, Rainer said.
Ultimately, however, building evangelistic associations requires DOMs to model personal evangelism for pastors and churches, he said.
“You must model [evangelism] for the leaders of the churches,” Rainer said. “You cannot program it or plan it until you have modeled it. And if you are not passionate about it, then ask God to give you a passion for lost people.”
Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, told DOMs that one of the most effective ways to ignite revival in an association is to help churches develop a burden for world evangelization.
“If you are going to lead a healthy association, you have got to see the world as God sees it,” Rankin said. “We’ve got to see the work that God is seeking to do in our world, and we’ve got to have our eyes open to see the will of God in our world.”
Often associations focus so intently on local missions that they lose sight of the need for world missions, he said. But DOMs have a responsibility to show congregations how God is at work in other countries.
Specifically, DOMs should tell churches about God’s work in countries that are officially closed to Christianity, Rankin said. Muslim countries in particular “are beginning to see the disillusionment with their Islamic faith. God is at work, and He is seeking someone to join what He is doing,” he said.
Rankin concluded, “God’s will is that you care for your association. But He is calling us together for reaching a lost world. And may He open our eyes that we may see His work and His world and His will.”
O.S. Hawkins, president of the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, told DOMs that a healthy association must care for people.
Preaching from Philemon, Hawkins noted that Paul played a role similar to that of modern DOMs. Following Paul’s example, DOMs must affirm believers as Paul affirmed Philemon, he said.
“The people that care for one another are the people that affirm one another,” Hawkins said. Affirmation “is a powerful dynamic, and the healthy association is the one that cares for people. Caring people affirm one another. That’s what Jesus did.”
Developing a caring association requires that Christians accept one another, Hawkins said. One important key to accepting fellow believers is learning how to forgive those who have wronged us, he said.
“Forgiveness is the key,” Hawkins said. “And it always takes two things for relationships to be made right…. There must be a repentant heart on the part of the offending party, and there must be an acceptant heart on the part of the offended party.”
In order to ensure that associations care for people, DOMs must help churches hold themselves accountable to biblical standards of love and kindness, he said.
Hawkins concluded, “Let me challenge you to learn some lessons from this great DOM, Paul. There is a dynamic power in interpersonal relationships. That’s what we use to minister to one another.”
Gary Frost, executive director of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, exhorted DOMs to search for open doors to ministry.
Preaching from Acts 18:1-11, Frost said the greatest doors to ministry often open when believers develop genuine friendships with those around them.
“God is not calling us to partnership,” he said. “He’s calling us to friendship…. We have to realize that there has to be relationship if there’s going to be the effective ministry of the Gospel and the advance of the Kingdom. The Kingdom works through love and relationships.”
When believers encounter closed doors in ministry, they must seek alternate ministry opportunities, Frost said.
“We spend too much time at closed doors,” he said. “Sometimes your open door is next door…. A closed door might be right beside some open doors that God wants you to access.”
Ultimately, God will show His servants open doors to ministry so that they can demonstrate the love of God to lost people, Frost said.