By Allan Eakin, Associate Editor
During the 2021 local associational season, members of the Baptist Trumpet team visited several local associations to share about the ministry of the Baptist Trumpet. For most, those fall meetings were the first following the COVID-19 pandemic. Not gathering for approximately two years seemed to have had a negative effect on many local associations. The pandemic was not the problem but only exposed an already underlying problem — a declining involvement of participation and interest in the association. The same was true of the 2021 BMA of Arkansas Meeting.
But what could be done? What was the answer? Many conversations occurred in the days following those 2021 meetings. The following is a summary of those conversations:
Missionary Baptists believe everything flows from the local church. God commissioned the local church to carry out the Great Commission. God established the local church as the primary vehicle of ministry to a sin-broken world.
Missionary Baptists also believe the health of the local church and the health of the local association are directly connected. Some would go so far as to say they are two sides of the same coin. The theme of the 2022 BMA of Arkansas meeting was Healthy Churches — Healthy Association. The converse can be true as well.
Why Do We Need Strong Associations?
The practice of associating together is biblical, practical and necessary. Why? First, a strong association will multiply the impact of the local church by member churches cooperating together. Second, a strong association will strengthen its member churches. Third, strong associations can support the ministries of the association.
For the local church, the local association is the first layer of cooperation. Through it, a church can multiply its impact, strengthen sister churches and champion local ministries. The same is true for all layers of cooperation — state and national associations.
What are Some Hindrances to Strong Associations
Several potential mindsets or practices hinder strong associations.
• Isolationism — Several BMA of Arkansas churches are not involved in a local association or state association. They may send a letter of representation to those meetings or even send money to the association but are functional isolationists because they do not participate in meaningful cooperation with other churches.
• Territorialism — True churches are not in competition with one another. Church A does not have a perceived territory, nor does church B. To feel like another church is infringing on your territory is wrong. They are simply reaching people you can’t or won’t reach. True churches must work together to advance the kingdom of God!
• Inferiority Complex — Some churches or church leaders, assume that because their church is not a mega-church, with a multi-million dollar budget, there is little they can contribute to the cause of Christ. In reality, every congregation has equal standing in associational work. Whether a church gives $ 10 per month to missions or $100 to the Baptist Trumpet, they are equal in ecclesiastical standing.
• Superiority Complex – Some churches experience the blessings of God on a particular ministry or ministry style and attempt to project it onto other churches. For example, a church with a thriving home group ministry may view a church with a Sunday School ministry as inferior. Yet another example might be a church with traditional style worship viewing a church with contemporary style worship as inferior. The superiority complex can be detrimental to associational cooperation. God uses different churches to reach different people.
What are Practical Ways to Strengthen an Association?
A hallmark principle of being a part of an association is the autonomous nature of the local church. That means no local church is under the authority of a hierarchy, board or other governing entity. Therefore, each local church is responsible to determine its level of involvement with a local, state or national association. The following are suggested ways of becoming more involved:
• Stay informed about each ministry. Most ministries on a state and national level maintain websites and produce newsletters, blogs or social media posts to inform church members about events, needs or other happenings. Be intentional about staying informed. At the Baptist Trumpet, part of our mission is to do our best to keep you informed about things on every level of the BMA — local, state, national and international.
• Pray specifically for other churches. Consider choosing another church in your local association and pray specifically for that congregation. To make that more meaningful, call the pastor of the church for whom you are praying and ask about how you can effectively pray for them. Pray for them during your public worship. Then let them know you prayed for them.
• Pray for associational ministries specifically. Consider praying for associational ministries (local, state or national) regularly or on a rotating basis, in addition to the times of Special Emphasis that are promoted. Pray regularly for them, especially when specific needs are expressed.
• Financially support associational ministries. Autonomy, when applied to the financial support of various ministries, means the local church chooses which ministries to support and in what amount they choose to support them. For example, on a state level, the BMA of Arkansas has four ministries — Central Baptist College, State Missions, Student Ministry Matters and Baptist Trumpet. Associational Baptists can choose which of those ministries they choose to support. Some churches may support State Missions only, and others may support all four. As to how much financial support each ministry receives, again, the local church determines the amount. Some churches choose a set amount and others choose a percentage. The ministries of our association cannot effectively carry out their mission without the faithful support of churches and individuals.
In the New Testament, churches shared personnel and finances with one another. The church at Antioch sent out its best leaders to evangelize Asia. The churches in Macedonia collected offerings for the Jerusalem church. Modern churches can do the same.
• Share ministry resources. If your church owns a tent, an inflatable or other ministry items, be willing to share with those who do not. Support the ministry of other churches.
• Develop associational resources. Another option is for the local association to acquire ministry resources like inflatables, popcorn machines and snow cone machines, then make them available to churches for events and ministry.
• Invest in other churches. Recently, the facilities of Park View Baptist Church in North Little Rock were damaged in a tornado and likely will be a total loss. What an opportunity to invest in a sister church by giving to that church financially to cover unexpected expenses. Yes, they had insurance, but insurance doesn’t cover every expense. Also, if another church in your area is without a pastor and you have a young minister or even a retired pastor in your congregation looking to fulfill their calling, encourage them to minister to that church with no pastor.
• Intentionally cooperate in ministry together. Consider hosting training events for area churches, like teacher trainings, prayer retreats, etc. Find a need among churches in your area and meet that need. Support the ministry events of other churches. If another church in your area is hosting an outreach event or other ministry event, offer to support them with personnel or just show up to encourage them.
So, let’s get the conversation started about revitalizing our associational work. Let’s get involved in impacting our communities together. Let’s serve one another.
Return to Why An Association of Churches? page.