NASHVILLE – Many years ago, I was told that if for some terrible reason we ever lost the ability to have a Convention then, by noon on the very next day, we would again have associations. This is because by and large, most Southern Baptist churches love to work together, and the local association is the best vehicle to do so. There are many definitions for association but the simplest and most accurate is, “An association is a fellowship of local autonomous churches with a singular vision to work together to claim their surrounding areas and ultimately the world for the Kingdom of Christ!”
Sometimes, it seems a daunting task for the small church to fulfill the Great Commission; but when viewed in the context of churches working together, such a vision can be unanimously embraced. One church may have the heart and motivation to move beyond its doors but lack the resources and volunteers, while other churches may have plenty of resources and volunteers but no vision. Mix these churches together in fellowship and suddenly the vision, resources and volunteers all become effectively shared to reach a lost world.
Southern Baptist associations are much like Southern Baptist churches in that they are a diverse group and are unique in many ways. Some associations are large while others are small enough that they must cooperate within an association of associations to accomplish their vision. Some directors of missions (DOMs) actually serve multiple associations because of limited resources and distance between churches. Other associations require a staff to accomplish the work because of the density and multiplicity of churches within their area and the sheer magnitude of the work.
So, how do I pray for my association?
Pray for a spirit of unity and harmony within the churches as they work together. Satan’s greatest tool is the ability to sow discord among believers and churches. The inability to work together is the one stumbling block we must constantly guard against. A wise country preacher once said, “You can throw two ole tomcats into a burlap sack together and you might have unity, but you ain’t got harmony!” Having a harmonious unity will bring churches together to accomplish great things for the Kingdom.
Pray for your director of missions and his family. Much as a pastor gives spiritual guidance to the church, a DOM must have a clear vision for Kingdom growth and the ability to cast that vision for the churches to see. He must be tireless in his service both to his pastors, his churches and to a lost world. The old title of “associational missionary” is still as valid today as it was years ago when it was in much greater use. Every church within an association has a missionary on staff whether the church recognizes it or not. Their DOM is their personal missionary to partner with the local pastors to resource, train and encourage all local churches to claim their communities for Christ.
Pray for a clear vision of planting new churches and strengthening struggling churches. Never has America presented such an opportunity for planting new churches as in today’s culture. The United States is now one of our world’s greatest mission fields as this nation becomes increasingly unchurched. The church’s impact on our society and culture is diminishing as our numbers steadily decline. Individual churches may be overwhelmed with the idea of planting a new work, but the association can be proactive in opening doors for new church plants and community outreach.
Mainstream, traditional churches are struggling as well. They are often hampered by past baggage and historical attitudes that limit their vision and create unnecessary boundaries to outreach. An association is able to encourage and provide the resources for dysfunctional churches to become healthy and spiritually reproductive.
Finally, pray that your association is challenged to resource, support and encourage every pastor. There can be no doubt that our pastors are front-line targets of the enemy. Who can come alongside these pastors to lovingly encourage and support them? Other pastors and especially the DOM can be the greatest friends to any pastor. Fellowship and time together allows pastors the opportunity to just be themselves and share their needs and frustrations.
So, please pray for your association and your Director of Missions. As the association grows stronger, the churches will benefit and become more effective in their Kingdom work.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Wright is director of missions for the Dyer Baptist Association in Dyersburg, Tenn., a member of the SBC Executive Committee, and serves on this year’s SBC Resolutions Committee. To learn more about the changing face of associations, visit www.sbclife.net/Articles/2013/05/SLA11.asp and www.sbclife.net/Articles/2013/05/SLA12.asp.)