By Steve Holt
Church services director, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board
Associations have been a vital part of Baptist life in America for more than 400 years. I believe Baptist associations served as the building blocks on which the structure and organization of Baptist state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention were constructed.
At its core, every association is a fellowship of autonomous — yet cooperative — churches that have joined together for the purpose of making a greater impact for the kingdom of God. The key idea being, “we can do more by working together than we can do by ourselves.” God has used that voluntary, cooperative spirit to build the largest evangelical denomination in North America.
A key component in associational life is the association’s leader. While we may call that leader director of missions, executive director, associational missionary, or use the new term, associational mission strategist; we know that individual helps the association accomplish its kingdom purpose. As a young pastor I relied on my director of missions for advice and encouragement. He also served as my “networker.” My director of missions connected me to the resources and ministries that my church supported beyond our association.
It was through the efforts of my DOM that I met Tennessee Baptist Convention entity leaders, state workers and SBC leaders. He made sure I attended important training events and kept me informed about opportunities to serve in our community as well as the state, nation and world. It was my DOM who invited me to go on my first international mission trip.
While technology makes information more attainable, there is nothing like having a person to call when you need an encouraging word, a sympathetic ear, or someone with discernment to give feedback about a decision or ministry opportunity. Associational leaders are more than a “pastor to pastors,” but that is still an essential function of their role.
The DOM/AMS is the first line of cooperation for churches in Southern Baptist life. The stronger our denomination is on the local level, the stronger we will be on the state and national level. When churches work together in their community, meeting the physical and spiritual needs around them, the more likely those churches will see value in giving through the Cooperative Program, supporting international and North American mission work, and working with other churches in Tennessee to win our state for Christ. Cooperation is more tangible when it is up close and personal.
This month as we celebrate the Baptist association, let’s reflect a moment on the role the DOM/AMS has played in associational life. Let’s think about all the ministries that started because these dedicated servants saw needs in their community and mobilized churches and church members to meet those needs. Also, think about the countless hours that have been devoted to encouraging men and women to be missional leaders and followers of Christ. What a rich legacy of devoted, passionate service to the Lord and His church!
This month let me encourage you to do two things. First, reach out to your local associational leader — whatever his title — and tell him “Thank you.” Sometimes his role can be a lonely one, so I believe a kind word from a member of one of his churches would mean a lot. Second, encourage your church leadership to generously support the work of the association financially as well as by getting involved. You won’t regret it! B&R