Has Associational Vision Leaked?

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By Allan Eakin, Associate Editor

      In leadership circles, the mantra “vision leaks” is tossed around readily. But what does that mean? Bill Hybels suggests, in Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs, that some leaders believe that if they present the vision of where the organization should be going — “fill people’s vision buckets all the way to the top one time” — that the vision will forever drive the organization. The reality is that people must be regularly reminded of the vision because, over time, they forget the vision — vision leaks.

      Has the associational vision of early BMA leaders leaked? Is the declining attendance at associational gatherings evidence of an associational vision leak? The annual meeting of the BMA of America is just days away. In an effort to bolster attendance, program changes have been set in motion. That seems to indicate that many recognize that a problem exists. While many of the program changes may prove to be beneficial, could there be something a little deeper that needs to be addressed, too? Has the vision of early BMA leaders leaked? Does that vision of churches associating together need to be revisited?

      As a frame of reference, I began attending associational meetings in the early 1980s. I recall some high moments, as well as some low moments in the work of the BMA. Some were obviously the hand of God, while others smacked of the work of men (the flesh). I recall lots of “back wall” conversations about issues the association faced. I recall moments when leaders graciously moved the body along. However, we worked through every issue together.

      Instead of laying blame for declining participation in various levels of the association on changing times, the pandemic, leadership, pastors or a different generation, maybe we need a conversation about what is right about the BMA of America and what needs improvement. Maybe we need a conversation about why so many churches no longer have a “buy-in” to associational work in general. Maybe we need a conversation that includes all generations of BMA people.

      To start that candid, but constructive conversation, the Baptist Trumpet has produced this insert with articles that talk about what it means to be an association from varied perspectives. You will hear about the history of associations and why it is a better way to cooperate for the furtherance of the gospel. Another article shares the heart of early BMA leaders as understood by someone who participated in those early days. Another BMA leader will contrast our association through the eyes of a boy that grew up in the BMA and now serves the churches of the BMA through an associational office. A younger pastor addresses the idea of being a part of the association through the eyes of a new pastor. Finally, the last installment in the series gives some “how-tos” of church involvement in associational work. Understand that involvement means more than just attending meetings or sending offerings, but rather working together within our communities, districts and state to further the kingdom.

      What is an association of Baptist churches and is there value in such organizations? Visit bmaamerica.org and under the “Who We Are” area you will find the statement, “We are Associational in local church partnerships.” But what does that mean?

      BMA churches voluntarily associate (cooperate) together for the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission. Jesus gave the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) to local churches. Churches alone carry the responsibility of fulfilling the mission of Jesus. However, the mission of Jesus is bigger than what a single congregation can do alone. BMA churches partner together to accomplish this mission — doing more together — and that partnership is called an association. Participation is voluntary. Participation maintains church autonomy. Participation broadens the reach of a single local church acting independently.

      Churches should work together for the purpose of missions, education, ministry and fellowship. An association provides the structure for these things to occur on a larger scale. Unfortunately, the independent mindset of western society has affected church associations. Every church is an autonomous (independent) body of believers. Yet, cooperating together just makes sense.

      Sometimes, churches with extensive ministries do not see a need to participate in associational partnerships. Sometimes, smaller churches feel they don’t have much to offer to associational partnerships. But the reality is larger congregations, mid-size congregations and smaller congregations all need each other.

      BMA leaders of the past envisioned a group of churches partnering together, with equal influence, for the purpose of missions, educations, benevolence, fellowship, and more. What does your vision of our association look like for you?

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