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Draper underscores importance of ‘associational history’

NASHVILLE (BP)–Whether viewing creation from a microscope or telescope, God prefers to do things in association rather than isolation, James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources, told the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions’ June 19-20 annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

“Even trees do better in association,” Draper said, citing redwoods as an example: Despite their great size, they actually have shallow roots. “They survive because the roots intertwine with each other and protect one another,” he noted.

“Just as individuals need to intertwine their roots to hold each other up, so do associations and churches,” Draper said.

Acts 9 provides “the seed of the idea of churches working together to accomplish causes,” he said, pointing out that churches were weak, separated, isolated, fragile and solitary when the first association was formed in London in the 1650s. Churches realized they couldn’t meet needs alone, he said, and those needs for working together continue to exist today.

“God help us to remember that associational history is our history,” Draper said, warning that “we will once again suffer isolation if we forget this.”

The need for mutual care exists regardless of the size of a church. “Our larger churches have an obligation to help the ministry of all our churches,” he said. “Most galaxies are not alone — they’re connected to each other. They are the largest objects known … but they exist in association,” Draper said.

Nodell Dennis, president of SBCADM, sounded an upbeat note to the group by declaring, “We have big plans for this organization.”

Just as the four men mentioned in Mark 2:1-12 used an innovative method of helping their sick friend have an encounter with Jesus, Dennis told the DOMs that “you and I are in the business of bringing together teams to heal people…. [L]ost people can’t save themselves.” He encouraged DOMs to attach significance to their work and be “the first line of help to our churches.”

D.L. Lowrie, retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, and former Tennessee Baptist Convention executive director, emphasized there are some tasks that are greater than any one congregation of believers can accomplish alone. “God puts believers together as a body…. There’s so much darkness out there,” he said, adding that the only hope for reaching the world is to do it together.

Steve Heartsill, design editor for Woman’s Missionary Union, emphasized the strength that comes from uniting and cooperating for the cause of Christ, while O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, told the DOMs, “Supply always exceeds demand when Christ gets involved.” Citing the feeding of the 5,000 recorded in John 6, Hawkins said that “there’s never enough to fill the void of the human heart” apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Mike Haynes, director of missions for the Green County Baptist Association in Springfield, Mo., encouraged attendees to “break free of provincial thinking” and “take our eyes off ourselves and look toward the harvest.”

Noting that many churches have plateaued or are declining, Haynes said churches are slipping in North America “because so few live by faith.”

“We want churches that live by faith…. [A]ssociations must set the pace,” Haynes said.

George Bullard, associate executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, concluded the conference by discussing what associations can uniquely offer: family, solutions and insight.

DOMs are the ones who know what is really going on in local churches, Bullard said. “It’s all about relationships … coming alongside your congregations and joining them on [their] journey.”

During the conference’s business sessions, new officers were elected, including Eddie Miller of the Sierra Baptist Association as president; Tom Biles of the Tampa Bay Baptist Association as first vice president; and Russell Cook of the Pottawatomie-Lincoln Baptist Association as second vice president.

The organization also approved a budget of $27,000 for 2006 and announced plans to observe the 300th anniversary of associations during their 2007 meeting in San Antonio.

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  • Don Beehler