October is the month for associational annual meetings. I have the privilege of preaching in two or three of these annual meetings each year. One of the things that captures my attention as I attend these events is the age of associations. In almost every case, the association is older than the convention. The truth is, associations predate state and national conventions among Baptists. The networking of Baptist churches in close proximity to one another for fellowship, doctrinal purity and mission work has been in existence for more than 300 years.
It is no small thing that, by nature, Baptists are not independent but autonomous. Independent means we are loners. Autonomous means we are self-ruled. Our autonomy does not separate us, but rather allows each church to maintain its own identity and governance. In our earliest days in America, Baptists longed for association with like-minded churches. We have always believed we could do more together than alone. We need one another.
In some circles, in recent days, the viability and necessity of associations has been brought into question. Some believe it is an antiquated dinosaur that drains money from the larger work and serves little purpose. I am sure one could find associations that are ineffective and have no strategic purpose, just as one could find churches, conventions and ministries that are not strategic and intentional. But to discard a vehicle of ministry because a few fail the test is shortsighted.
Associations are no different than any ministry organization. Continual adjustments are needed as associations seek to meet the present needs of the churches in the area. It has been my good pleasure to see some very effective associational work over the last few years. In these associations, the directors of missions and pastors have continued to analyze, adjust and refocus so as to serve the churches.
The association is up close and personal. When done right, the relationships formed among the pastors and the concomitant ministry produced can impact the community, county and beyond. I have joined in their annual meetings the past few years and rejoiced as I listened to the reports of ministries making a difference in expanding the Kingdom of God.
I have heard some scoffing and derogatory statements declaring that directors of missions are just chaplains for pastors. First, I would suggest that this is a worthy and beneficial role. Pastors hurt just like people in the pew, and they need someone who will listen and bring objectivity and wise counsel. Pastors need someone with whom they can bounce ideas around and share dreams. Sometimes, they need a friend who will look them in the eye and shoot straight with them. A good director of missions plays this role.
But the role of the association and its director is far greater. I have listened in these annual meetings to passionate directors of missions share visions that unite and connect the churches. I have watched as leaders joined in working together to bring Gospel impact to their areas. These associations form a powerful force to connect churches in cooperative work to the ends of the Earth through mission partnerships.
In recent years, the BGCO and directors of missions have formed a tighter bond built on mutual respect and a spirit of cooperation. The work of Southern Baptists in Oklahoma is greatly strengthened with every step the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and directors of missions take together.
I am thankful for the directors of missions in our state and the associations they serve. We are proud to walk together in the cause of the Gospel. Our churches are stronger because Southern Baptists work together at every level.