Saturday, October 23, 2010

Anticipating a Future of Service

When I was campus minister at a denominational college in east Tennessee, I often attended five or six associational meetings in October. Adding these to already busy schedule was not easy, but there were three good things about the assignment. First, I saw some beautiful fall foliage as I traveled the highways and roads of east Tennessee. Second, I got to meet some nice people and tell them about the students at their denominational school. Third, I heard some good preaching! The person (it was always a man, of course) doing the annual sermon always pulled out his best and delivered it with conviction. Those were good days in many ways.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the district judicatory that we call the Baptist association faces tough times today. If associations are going to survive, they must adopt a new paradigm that more effectively addresses the reality of the churches they serve.

The association will become more effective when it becomes a regional rather than a county organization. At least in Tennessee, churches cannot support all of the associations that presently exist. Several county associations could combine into one association that would be more effective and efficient.

The association must move away from the program delivery model to a people development model. The director of missions must become a coach to both clergy and laity. This means individualized attention to help church leadership address the unique needs of their congregations. The director can also facilitate peer groups of pastors, Christian educators, and lay leaders so that they can help and support each other.

The association can serve as a clearing house for ministry opportunities in the local area. This does not mean that the association will staff and fund these ministries. On the contrary, the association can identify established programs that embrace the values of local Baptist churches and then link the churches with these ministries. The organizations served do not even have to be Baptist!

The best thing about this approach is that it requires no buildings and little overhead. The association can be housed in a supporting church and utilize its meeting facilities when needed or go to other supporting churches.

These changes are not radical, but they could assure the future ministry of the judicatory.

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