The History and Future of Baptist Associations
My Notes on Mike Day's Lecture, "The Future of Baptist Associations" at Union University
Editor’s note: This is a blog post I published July 17, 2014 on a previous blog.
“The Future of Baptist Associations and State Conventions” by Mike Day was really informative, insightful, and stimulating. As part of the executive board and advisory council at the Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association, I thanked God for this lecture. I don’t agree with everything he envisions going forward, but this is good food for thought. Here are my notes:
Pathway from the Past
The beginning days 1707-1814
125 local baptist associations in the colonies;
Philadelphia Baptist Association was first (1707). Their desire: to select the most capable in every congregation, and to meet yearly to consult about such things as were lacking in the congregations to set those things in order. They set the the course for associations of the future. They should be church-centered, advisory, and cooperative in its nature.
In 1749 to ask Benjamin Griffith to write on the power of associations (7:10):
The association is not superior or having superior judicatory over the churches. The association is actually subservient to the churches.
An association, like the congregation, is autonomous.
The association can advise the churches in terms of proper procedures and proper beliefs, but churches are under no obligation to comply with the advice.
With these three tenets associations in our country was established.
For the first 100 years associations were very effective: they fostered fellowship, maintained uniformity in faith and practice among the churches, gave support and counsel, and provided a vehicle for churches to cooperate.
The transitional years 1814-1920 (8:44)
Associations multiplied, state conventions and even the Southern Baptist convention formed in this period.
The associations were supported in forming these entities.
These larger entities created an identity crisis for the association.
Became a mirror reproduction on a small scale of the state convention.
The role of the association changed during this period from from a doctrinally-based fellowship of churches to an implementing agency of the denomination; shifting from a guardian of the fellowship to a denominational promoter; shifting the initiative for mission from the churches to the state and national convention. People began to see the state and national convention is the initiator of mission, not the local churches.
Modern era 1920-1978
Cooperative program in 1925
Adopted the Baptist Faith and Message with an article on cooperation
In 1928 the convention established relationship of the state convention to the local association: the state convention became the receivers and distributors operate a program funds. It was stated that this was optional and that it can be changed at anytime.
Many wondered what significance associations now had for Baptist life.
The re-formation: 1978-2007 (14:40)
The conservative resurgence.
Associations were birthed by biblical Baptists. They held the biblical teaching of cooperation.
Associations were nurtured by believing Baptists who believed the great commission was too large for a single church and demanded cooperation.
They were shaped by bureaucratic Baptists
Defined by battling Baptists
Questioned by befuddled Baptist. A lot of what we do is confusing to churches. A lot of of what we’ve been doing for a long time needs to be questioned. We better listen to and answer the questions that people on the blogs are writing about the association and its relationship to the state convention and a local church.
The Predicaments of the Present (20:25)
The duplicated effort syndrome – church planting assessments and deployments providing the exact same service at the associational, state, and NAMB levels.
The “institution-first” syndrome: we have created and sustained so many expensive institutions like schools, hospitals, and other services that they dominate the discussions in our conventions and annual meetings.
The autonomous-hierarchy syndrome: we seek the approval of certain entities moving forward, or even worse, we think we need to be approving other entities before they can act. Worst of all, churches end up on the bottom of the pile when biblically they should be at the top.
Codified-cooperation syndrome: we want to further define what it means to cooperate as Southern Baptists. We have to decide what’s enough. We tend to require more for cooperation than the Baptist faith and message and the conservative resurgence. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but it’s something we must think about.
The thinly-spread-mission-dollar syndrome. Look at how each cooperative program dollar in your state is spent. The mission dollar is thinning out with our expanding ministries. States decide to retain more for their mission. Local associations beg for more to sustain their ministries.
The lost-influence syndrome: the entities influence (through resourcing) to the churches, and the churches influence to the world.
What’s the way forward? Some say:
Start new associations that are affinity-based.
Start associations based on a particular program: church planting or evangelism or something like that.
Start new conventions or more associations that are more in line with one’s particular theology or emphases.
The convention, the state conventions, and associations are in need of fine-tuning and overhaul. But is an overhaul enough? What if we need a new system altogether?
A new paradigm for associations and state conventions (34:10):
It’s church-driven. The great commission is given to churches, not other entities.
Priority-based: focus on the priorities of the local churches: church planting, church revitalization, church leadership development, the mobilization of churches to preach the gospel.
Resource-focused: provide resources to the church that assist the church for the accomplishment of its mission. It has no programs to maintain but just getting resources to the churches.
It’s institution-free: it will work hard to avoid owning anything. It may want to own a building. But it doesn’t have to own a school, camp, campus… It may support other institutions, but it will not be saddled by them.
Strategically-managed: the DOM will model a catalytic facilitative missionary role. They will facilitate helping the mission of the church, providing demographics for mission initiative. They will be in a catalytic role, not a director role.
Regionally-located, but not geographically bound: with the Internet and smart phones, we need not be limited by geography. He doesn’t know how this gets worked out. (PJ’s note: I think the strength of local associations is it’s geographical proximity in cooperation and disagree with this point).
Denominationally-connected, but not in the traditional ways: it won’t rely on the state convention to be its primary source of training, input, and perhaps even income. This new association will be a combined entity. If this vision plays out, the local association and the state convention as we know today will no longer exist. They will morph into this regional kind of association of churches.
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