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Local association envisions, funds ‘koinonia’ events for ministers, wives

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–When it comes to encouraging fellowship and spiritual growth among church staff members and their families, one Southern Baptist association in Mississippi is putting its money where its mouth is.
Thirty-six ministers and their wives from the Jones County Baptist Association in Laurel, Miss., were in Nashville, Tenn., July 20-23 for a personal enrichment retreat at LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly the Sunday School Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention. LifeWay has been conducting similar events for decades, but officials say this is the first time the content and schedule were customized to fit the needs of a single association. It’s also the first time the local association has picked up the tab.
The Jones County association contributed $7,500 toward the retreat expenses, allowing many ministers to attend who otherwise would have been unable to afford such a trip.
“We consider it an investment, not an expense,” Allan Nix, director of missions, explained. “We believe these kind of events will have a positive impact on our ministers and, as a result, on our churches.”
The Jones County retreat — which included sessions on physical, intellectual and spiritual well-being; marriage enrichment; responding to conflict and other topics — was coordinated and staffed by LeaderCare. A ministry of LifeWay’s pastor-staff leadership department, LeaderCare provides a network of personal development help for ministers as well as resources for crisis prevention, intervention and restoration.
“I’ve never encountered this particular philosophy of ministry on the local association level,” LeaderCare consultant Norris Smith said. “This group’s focus on the personal and spiritual development of its ministers and their families is exactly what we’re trying to encourage on a national level through LeaderCare. If every Southern Baptist association in America followed this model, it would have an incredible impact on the spiritual health of our churches.”
This isn’t the first time the Jones County association has provided funds aimed at helping ministers grow in their spiritual walk. According to Nix, the association’s commitment to the spiritual development of its ministerial family actually began five years ago.
“God began to build the foundation for fellowship and mutual support in the midst of preparation for an area-wide crusade in the spring of 1993,” Nix said. “Anonymous attempts to discredit the evangelist, intended to derail and even cancel the crusade effort, actually served to strengthen ties among the pastors in the association.”
Later that year, a group of 25 ministers attended a spiritual renewal session at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center.
“Experiences shared at the conference and in travel together helped to establish and deepen relationships with one another,” Nix said. “Bonds of trust were forged. An after-service prayer meeting kindled a spark of enthusiasm and expectancy that has taken place since then.”
After their return from Ridgecrest, four groups of ministers began meeting on Wednesday mornings to pray and study the “Experiencing God” discipleship course.
Next, the association began an intensive strategic planning process “to keep us focused and intentional in our activities,” Nix said. At the heart of the planning was answering the question, “What has God called the Jones County Baptist Association to be and do as a fellowship of churches?”
In October 1995, a strategic plan with a purpose statement and the three following objectives were adopted: 1) genuine spirituality, 2) skills development and 3) personal growth.
“Our objective on genuine spirituality has been a primary catalyst in helping ministers experience spiritual growth and express mutual support for each other,” Nix said. “The Bible describes this joint participation and partnership as ‘koinonia.'”
Jones County encouraged this biblical partnership through annual retreats undergirded by the financial support of the association. In the spring of 1996, for example, the association appropriated $10,000 to cover the on-site expenses for ministers and wives to attend a weeklong Experiencing God in Revival national conference at Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center. Upon returning from Glorieta, the ministers’ wives formed a fellowship organization known as “Sharing the Call.” The group provides encouragement and support to one another through regular meetings and a monthly newsletter.
The association supported a weekend retreat in January 1998 for 34 ministers’ wives and a trip by 30 ministers to the Power of the Call church leadership conference at Ridgecrest in May 1998. And earlier this year, a number of ministers and local churches in Jones County participated in a 40-day period of prayer and spiritual awakening for a regional Experiencing God Through Revival conference in Laurel. More than half of the 50 churches in the association have conducted Experiencing God studies on either a small-group or church-wide basis. And the practice of the Wednesday morning meetings for ministers begun five years ago continues today.
“This journey has allowed a number of God’s servants to experience spiritual growth, fellowship and mutual support in genuine and credible ways,” Nix said. “God has been faithful in helping us learn how to become a loving and caring fellowship of individuals and congregations. He continues to guide us in encouraging and equipping others, especially ministers and wives, toward a spiritual development through retreats, times of united prayer and other shared experiences.”
The effect of Jones County’s commitment to koinonia may best be summed up by Tommy Mangum, pastor of First Baptist Church, Ovett, Miss.
“I’m rich to be in an association like this,” Mangum said. “It’s unusual to be able to laugh and learn and pray with these other ministers the way we do. I hope we never lose this unique approach.”
Smith said LeaderCare is open to providing similar “customized” enrichment and training events for local associations. Church leaders can contact Smith by phone at (615) 251-2084 or via e-mail at [email protected].
For non-emergency LeaderCare services (such as career assessment, personal development resources and wellness information) call (615) 251-2265. For crisis intervention (e.g. mediation, ministry renewal, restoration and career transition), call toll-free 1-888-789-1911.

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  • Chip Alford