Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Celebrating a Legacy of Service

On Monday evening, I had the opportunity to attend the 200th anniversary meeting of Concord Baptist Association in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I will readily admit that this is the first associational meeting that I have attended in 12 years. I regularly attended such meetings as a Baptist Student Union director, campus minister, state convention employee, and denominational college campus minister.

This association has a sentimental attachment for me since I served as BSU director at Middle Tennessee State University from 1970 to 1976. I preached in practically every church in the association and knew all of the pastors and many of the lay leaders by name. We worked to form a partnership among the churches, the association, and the state convention that eventually resulted in the construction of a new Baptist Student Center that was tagged the Centennial Baptist Student Center because it was dedicated the year (1974) that the state convention observed its formation 100 years earlier in Murfreesboro. I still have fond memories of those days and those relationships.

Concord association was organized in 1810 and linked churches throughout middle Tennessee. When the association was formed this area was the frontier. West Tennessee had not even been settled at that time. As David Pittman, director of missions, pointed out in his presentation, when the association was formed the United States of America was only 34 years old and Tennessee had been a state for only 14 years. This association is older than both the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.

My friend, Dr. Fred Rolater, wrote a rather comprehensive history of the association for the occasion. The first section recounts the reasons for the founding of the association in 1810. The association provided fellowship, encouragement, and a doctrinal framework for young, struggling congregations and believers. Of course, the mission of the association evolved over the years. In the twentieth century, the Baptist association became the delivery system of denominational programs, a promoter of the Cooperative Program of Missions, and very often provided the impetus for new church starts or the means of bringing church splits into the denominational fold. This association, like many others, provided valuable assistance to local churches of all sizes.

Judicatories like Concord Baptist are an endangered species. Larger churches tend to be rather self-sufficient when it comes to training leaders and aligning with mission partners. Resources are readily available online. Denominational conflict has not been particularly helpful either. Judicatories such as the Baptist association can survive, but this will require a paradigm shift. I will address that subject in a subsequent blog post.

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