Nearly 200 associational leaders were challenged to “work heartily as for the Lord, and not for men” during the 2016 Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL) gathering held June 12-13 prior to the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting in St. Louis.
“Do you consider your work important?” asked SBCAL conference team leader Ray Gentry as he established the meeting theme. “Are you working heartily? Are you serving with all of your heart?”
Gentry, the director of ministry for the Southside Baptist Network in Georgia, warned that if associational leaders do not see their role as important, pastors they serve may not either. “Too many may take this role to coast, not to sharpen iron.”
“Some have not seen much happening in their association,” Gentry said, but urged them to “work heartily, humbly, leveraging (your) spiritual gifts.”
Preaching during the meeting’s Sunday worship service, Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, cited 2 Timothy 3, encouraging associational leaders in “keeping the faith in a faithless age.”
Recalling the evils facing the early church, he acknowledged similarities between the First and 21st Centuries. In these “dark times, we have to remind ourselves the church in every generation has known trials, the church in every generation has tribulation, the church in every generation has known challenges.”
Allen urged associational leaders to “cling to the promise that Jesus is Lord and is building His church.”
He offered seven admonitions from 2 Timothy that will enable associational leaders to keep the faith: grow in salvation; believe Scripture; preach the Word; be sober in all things; endure hardship; do the work of an evangelist; and fulfill your ministry.
“What does it mean to fulfill your ministry in a room of stakeholders in the SBC? We can’t begin to perform our ministry unless we understand our calling is to keep trust with our churches. We need to strengthen and collaboratively work to encourage one another.”
Keynote speaker Tom Wood, president of Church Multiplication Ministries and author of Gospel Coach, urged associational leaders “to deliver the gospel of Jesus” as a means “to increase the health and probability of your pastors.”
The gospel must be applied relationally, personally, missionally and spiritually, he said.
Associational leaders can fill a role as a gospel coach by helping pastors “revive and thrive” through accountability, training and communications.
Noting burnout and moral failure are primary reasons pastors leave the ministry, Wood reminded attendees the gospel remains the priority for growth and discipleship in the Christian life.
“The gospel is how we become Christian but also how we live Christian.”
Speaking on church revitalization, Richard Blackaby, president of Blackaby Ministries International, recalled the journey of his own father, Henry Blackaby, as an associational missionary. “On the Lord’s Day, he was praying for his churches.”
Noting that 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches are plateaued or dying and 900 close their doors each year, Blackaby suggested associational leaders look to the writings of John, exiled on the Isle of Patmos. The apostle, who had witnessed the transfiguration, resurrection and ascension, was assuming the role of a director of missions as he – even in his own distress – encouraged and prayed for the first three churches in the Book of Revelation, Blackaby contended.
John’s insights and prayers extended for those New Testament churches are relevant to churches today, he stressed.
Blackaby told the group their best days of ministry may be ahead but will only come as they experience renewal in their own faith. “You need a fresh encounter with the risen Christ yourself. You can’t give to others what you don’t have yourself.”
“The risen Lord can take a church from death’s door to the best days it’s ever had,” Blackaby said. “We all need an Isle of Patmos encounter with the risen Lord.”
Throughout the two days, associational leaders attended workshops and roundtable discussions to enhance their skills and equip them to be more effective in ministry.
In business matters, SBCAL elected 2016-17 officers: Mike Pennington, Tenn., chairman; Tim Pruit, Ariz., vice chairman; Philip Price, Miss., recording secretary; Bob Lowman, N.C., nominating chairman; and Ray Gentry, Ga., conference team leader.
Next year’s SBCAL annual conference will convene June 11-12 in Phoenix.