Recently, the Pike Association of Southern Baptists gathered for our 60th fall meeting, and it was my sixth as director of missions, meaning that I have only been involved in one-tenth of this association's storied history. As we assembled to worship, to be challenged by powerful preaching, to hear testimonies and celebrate how God is moving in our area, and to vote on various leadership positions, I'm grateful that churches are still partnering together to make a significant kingdom impact locally and globally. Here are 10 reasons why I am grateful for my local Baptist association:
1. We work together because we understand that we can always do more together than we can on our own.Just as a body of believers in a local church can do more for God's kingdom than any single member can do by themselves, the same principle applies at the association level. Churches partnering together with other churches can impact a community or region much more effectively when they work together than when they attempt to do it alone. I'm grateful that I serve in an area where churches are committed to working together.
2. We work together because we are committed to cooperation rather than competition. I'm grateful for the churches in my association that understand that we all have the same mission, the Great Commission. We are all seeking to make as many disciples of Jesus Christ as possible. And given the fact that 92 percent of our region is unchurched, there are plenty of lost people to go around! When churches and church leaders understand that our mission is to advance God's kingdom rather than our little kingdoms (churches), we joyfully work together to reach people with the gospel. We're less concerned with which of our churches they choose to attend, and more concerned that they are becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ in whatever church they attend. We don't view other churches as competition, but as cooperative partners in the Great Commission.
3. We work together to meet the needs of our community. Every summer, we organize a local missions event where our churches come together to share the love of Christ in deed and in truth by meeting practical needs in the community. Sometimes, our churches are pulling up weeds for a homeowner or local business. Sometimes we are providing free car washes. Sometimes we are giving away clothing and other home goods. Sometimes we are building a wheelchair ramp or repairing a roof. Every time we are seeking to share the gospel. In just the past four years, we have completed over 50 home repair projects, washed thousands of cars for free, and have loved on our communities in countless ways, and led a few people to Christ along the way.
4. We work together to provide encouragement, resources, and coaching for pastors. Pastors serve as the spiritual shepherds of their flock, but sometimes they need someone to encourage or equip them. In those times, I'm grateful that they can sit down with a group of other pastors who love them and can identify with what they are going through and can provide the encouragement they need. If a pastor has a ministry idea that he wants to bounce off others, he can do so. If he needs someone to help him with a problem he is facing, other pastors are there to offer guidance. If he needs a book recommendation about a specific issue, it's likely that he will have several after talking with other pastors.
5. We work together to equip our local churches. If the churches have a specific need, the association will do everything that we can to provide the training. Whether it is to help churches think through their safety and security procedures, provide training for VBS volunteers, train men on how to prepare a sermon, equip Sunday School leaders to be more evangelistic, or to help churches evaluate and improve their financial policies and procedures, these training opportunities are provided close to home and at little or no cost to individuals or churches. These opportunities are only made possible by the generous and sacrificial financial gifts of churches and individuals to the association.
6. We work together to plant new churches. Until recently, no new churches had been planted in my local association in nearly 30 years, and baptisms had been on a steady decline as a result. However, a new church was planted last year, and representatives from nearly a dozen churches were present on launch Sunday to show their support and encouragement. In the past year, that new church plant baptized 18 people, the second most in the association. And for the first time in several years, the total number of baptisms from all the churches increased. I am grateful that the churches in my local Baptist association see the need for revitalized churches but also new churches!
7. We work together to provide resources to churches in times of transition. 70 percent of the churches in my association have had a pastoral transition in the past five years. Thankfully, those churches are not alone as they conduct their searches for new pastors. Through training, consulting, and advising provided by the association, pastor search committees have the resources they need to conduct thorough and effective pastor searches. In addition, other churches graciously send out some of their members to fill the pulpits of these pastor-less churches. Again, we see the beauty of churches working together!
8. We work together to provide opportunities to go on mission together outside the local area. Many churches and individuals simply do not have the time nor resources to organize and participate in a mission trip to another part of North America or the world on their own. However, when churches partner together, the impossible becomes quite possible very quickly. I'm thankful for this added benefit of churches partnering together.
9. We work together with the joyful knowledge that we are part of something greater than ourselves. Through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptist churches send missionaries to the ends of the earth, plant churches in the most unreached cities of North America, provide relief whenever disaster strikes, train thousands of pastors and missionaries each year, provide care for orphans and widows, and contribute to countless other types of kingdom work. Whenever the churches of the local association gather together, it can be a time of celebration of all that God is doing both locally and globally through the cooperative work of Southern Baptists.
10. We work together because we enjoy the fellowship with other churches. Sometimes, it's just nice to get together and hear how God is working at the church across town or on the other side of the county. When churches gather together, they can enjoy sweet fellowship, but also spend time praying for one another. I am grateful that the churches in my association do both!
I realize that I'm biased in my affections for local Baptist associations. But I am thankful that when churches partner together, the gospel is proclaimed, the kingdom is advanced, and God is glorified!