Baptist associations: 'a biblical model'
PHOENIX (BP)--The future of the Baptist association is on solid footing, a Southern Baptist leader said, because the organization of churches within regional groups is based on a biblical model.
"The future of the association is bright," Ken Hemphill said. "I believe it's a biblical model," therefore "survival is solved."
"The question is, will it thrive or survive?" Hemphill asked at the June 12 plenary session of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Director of Missions at North Phoenix Baptist Church, prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 14-15.
Hemphill, who has served as the Empowering Kingdom Growth strategist for the SBC Executive Committee, addressed about 80 directors of missions at meeting, with an overall attendance of about 135.
Citing 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 8, Hemphill said the Apostle Paul first organized a regional association of churches when he encouraged the seven churches of Revelation to collect money for the Jerusalem church.
With this, Hemphill said, Paul "knit together" the church and the association. "Outside the local church, the association is the only clear pattern found in the New Testament."
Hemphill said the local church is "God's divine plan for the advancement of His work on earth," which can best be done through churches organized in regional associations.
"No church is big enough to complete this task, but all the churches together can," Hemphill said.
Also addressing the conference were:
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, urged the associational leaders to "provoke" churches to learn the cultural context of their communities.
Knowing the community leads to opportunities to pray for it, Stetzer said, which lead to reaching and loving it. However, he said, "You cannot love a community unless you know a community."
Stetzer encouraged the director of missions to become experts of the community for their congregations. "Raise the level of commitment of your churches to know their communities" by knowing the community's demographic makeup and pockets of affinities as well as the size, age, affluence, worship styles and evangelistic methods of other churches, he said.
Churches should engage their neighborhood through ministries and involvement, Stetzer said, adding that the future of the association will best be demonstrated by churches "taking the focus from 'us' to the community around them."
Acknowledging the days of uncertainty within the SBC, "wondering how it's going to shake out," O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, told director of missions to adopt a "different spirit" by looking at the glass as "half full" instead of "half empty."
He reminded the DOMs of the 10 spies who returned from the Promised Land discouraged, saying because of that attitude, the 10 are now anonymous. But Joshua and Caleb demonstrated a "different spirit" and a determination to see the Promised Land's potential.
Living "life half empty," always results in playing defense, Hawkins said, and destined the children of Israel to spend the next 38 years without any direction.
"You play offense when you see the glass half full," Hawkins said.
Telling DOMs they can have "the greatest impact you've ever had in history if you fear the Lord and serve him with certainty," Hawkins urged them to "finish the race with a different spirit."
The annual meeting provided the associational leaders their first opportunity to hear from and ask questions of the recently elected presidents of the SBC's two mission boards.
Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, said a strengthened emphasis on church planting is designed to give the board an identity and is the "best way to revitalize" the SBC.
Affirming their role, he told the DOMs there was "not a better way to start churches than the association and churches working together."
Ezell said in addition to the number of church plants, NAMB will focus on the quality and five-year survivability of the churches.
"We believe in evangelism and church planting," Ezell said, adding, "We are not taking one step back from evangelism."
Ezell admitted that since he was employed nearly a year ago, he had struggled with sorting out the "complex" nature of the board's work and relating to 42 unique state conventions and 42 state executives, unable yet to focus fully on 1,100 associations.
But he promised the DOMs, "We are for you. We will never be all we can be at NAMB without you. If you think for one moment we are overlooking the association, we are not.
"Give us the benefit of the doubt," he implored, "Round up rather than round down."
Answering questions, several DOM's expressed a frustration in not knowing the board's expectations of their work, especially those receiving NAMB funding.
"We're having a tough time understanding what we are supposed to do," said Duane Davis, a DOM from the East Central Illinois Baptist Association.
Again, Ezell asked for patience. "We have to get to some truth. It is hard. It is very difficult. We've got to do something to get us moving in the same direction."
Tom Eliff, the new president of the International Mission Board, asked the DOMs to assist in a new IMB initiative "Embrace" which will encourage local churches to adopt one of 3,800 unengaged people groups in the world.
While an "unreached" people is defined as being less than 2 percent evangelical, Eliff said an "unengaged" people group is "totally pagan. Not one entity, including the IMB, has a strategy to reach them."
Churches will be asked to "get a burden" for one of these people groups and make a commitment that will last a lifetime. Ultimately, he said, the IMB hopes someone in the church will be called as a missionary to that group.
Eliff said the association can serve as a "red hot training center for people and churches who want to engage these people groups."
Margaret Slusher, president of Lead Plus and former associational staff member, shared insights on conflict resolution and remediation, encouraging the directors of missions to have "ears and eyes to listen."
The most successful type of conflict intervention is transformational, Slusher said, "not about winning, but about God winning and getting down on our knees and seeking God."
Transformation is about change of heart, she said, which results in issues fading away.
Despite God's call for the believer to be a peacemaker, she said a fourth of churches, when surveyed, reported conflict in the past five years, with hundreds of pastors being forced to leave their churches.
"Until we learn to deal with conflict through transformation, we will never be able to penetrate the darkness," Slusher said.
SBCADOM officers elected for 2012 are: president, Johnny Rumbough, Lexington Baptist Association, S.C.; first vice president, Rick Robbins, Northern Kentucky Baptist Association; second vice president, John Brittain, Arundel Baptist Association, Md.; recording secretary, George Berger, Lebanon Baptist Association, Miss.; "DOME Light" editor, Glen Hickey, retired, Ark.; retired associational staff committee, Jim McCaughan, retired, St. Louis Metro Baptist Association; "DOM Viewpoint" editor, Ben Chandler, St. Clair Baptist Association, Miss.
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.