Since I no longer consider myself a Southern Baptist, you may be surprised that I would say this, but there are some Southern Baptists who really "get it"--that is, they are able to read the signs of the times and move to adapt organizations that will respond effectively to the needs of churches.
One such case is Mike Day, (executive?) director of missions for the Mid-South Baptist Association in Memphis. At a symposium in Jackson, Tennessee, last month, Day made this statement: "[Southern Baptists] will proclaim [local church] autonomy as sacred and necessary, yet we behave sometimes like we require the approval of others or we behave as if we have the right to approve. It's an implied hierarchy, for sure. We won't ever admit that it exists."
Now, we could get into a long discussion about how this "hierarchy" operates in Baptist life today, but my immediate response was appreciation for Day's vision. He was calling for a renewed commitment to the work of the local church and a revised role for Baptist associations as supporters of churches in doing ministry. He also advocated a regional approach to Baptist associations clustered around urban centers that would eventually lead to the demise of state Baptist conventions. He called for a "new paradigm that must be church-driven, priority-based, resource-focused, strategically managed and regionally oriented."
Fellowship Baptists will resonant with some of his observations. From the beginning, CBF has encouraged partnering with other entities (not "reinventing the wheel"), resourcing churches, and avoiding the ownership of institutions. However, I think we are still struggling with the state and regional organizational component. We don't want to reproduce the old approach, but we haven't really found the best way to do it.
Anyway, I appreciate Day's comments. They are the remarks of someone whose organization is taking a realistic, hard look at how entities beyond the local church can help churches discover and fulfill their God-given mission. It is a task that we must all take seriously.