By Derrick A. Bremer, Pastor • Denver Street Baptist Church, Greenwood
As a young pastor (I’m 29, for those of you wondering), a tremendous amount of grace has been extended to me in the areas of my life where my immaturity has displayed itself most prominently.
The question has been asked of me, “Why should we associate?” Perhaps the question should be, “Why should we continue to associate?” Doesn’t it seem like the trends in our work point toward a waning desire to come together to accomplish the work that we set out to do as an association year by year? Surely, I’m not the only “young buck” asking the question of myself, “How much longer will we go on like this?” If associational work is to return to the vibrancy, zealousness and virtue that was established in the days of William Carey and others at the cusp of the modern missionary era, my generation will need to catch the vision that led to establishing our work. Moreover, the generation that has come before us must break free of the chains of tradition and routine to be reminded of the simple origins of associational work.
I write from a young man’s perspective. I want to share with you why I am involved in associational work, why other young men should be passionate about the same and how you can work to inspire such people in your life to be involved.
I’m involved in associational work for selfish reasons. When I was called to salvation, it wasn’t because I grew up in a family that attended church. My discipleship journey was dependent on faithful brothers and sisters who were committed to their local church. There were people who became closer than family to me. When I surrendered to ministry, I was dependent upon the guidance and discipline of my pastor. When I accepted the call of my first church, where I currently serve, the reigns were cut loose and I was reminded daily that I am dependent upon the love, grace and wisdom of the Almighty. For those of you who have never pastored a church or have to dig back further than 20 years in your memory to remember your first church, it’s a lot like jumping off the 20th floor of a building — by the time you make it down 19 floors you think to yourself, “This really isn’t so bad.” As willing as I am to admit my personal immaturity, I’m not satisfied to stay that way. I grow as a pastor because of associational work. Through the relationships that I have because of our association, I can look back and see evidence of that growth. My primary reason for associating is selfish — I want to be a good pastor. To that end, I want to be a good Missionary Baptist. I want my Lord to be pleased with the contribution I’ve been able to make in the work that comes with an association to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. I know it’s immature — but as I grow, I realize more and more that my selfish desires are shifting in the sands to the selfless pleas that God will be glorified by the limited time He has granted to give me on their earth. Maybe that’s not so bad.
It is easy to become frustrated with the bureaucracy that becomes a necessity in any organizational structure. I’m the pastor of a normative size church and I’m frustrated with business meetings. My generation seems to want to tear down and dismantle every organizational structure that we didn’t establish. That is one (of many) possible reasons the younger generation is becoming less interested in the work of which we are proudly a part. I would contend, though, that it is easier to fix a broken system than it is to build a system from scratch. Other young men and women are needed to be a part of reshaping our associations. My generation is necessary, not just to maintain the structure that has been established before us, but to continue to influence its growth and health. Without participation, the influence of such people who have pure and noble ambitions are lost in their individuality.
You can be a part of stirring up these individuals and spurring on the health of our work! It’s as simple as getting back to the roots of Associational Baptists. Quit thinking of associational meetings as pastor meetings. They’re not. Historically, when associations began forming, it was more closely akin to what we see in Lions Clubs. That is, community members tied to each other by varying degrees of proximity and desire to come together to accomplish a task. All churchmen should have a common desire — to share the gospel. Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and get to work? That’s what associational life is about. Invite the easily excited pot-stirring young Christian to roll up their sleeves with you. Believe it or not, the riff-raff is most easily handled by giving them a task to work toward. Give them room to express their concerns and be ready to admit there is room to improve. Challenge them when necessary and listen earnestly. I believe the real reason for a lack of engagement among the generation you have the ability to influence is simply that they do not have a sense of being able to contribute. Either they’ve been muted or simply never been shown how to simply get to work. Bring them with you and watch what happens.
Associational work matters because it is the biblical model of local churches with independence, working collectively together to accomplish more than they would be able to accomplish on their own. It is not an issue of relegating the Great Commission to a central agency, but rolling up our sleeves and working alongside one another. Too often (because it is just so easy to do), we support ministries with our financial contributions, and there’s certainly a place for that, but if our contributions stop there, I fear our heart is not really in it. Perhaps even the ability to support missionaries has given us undue solace for accomplishing the work of ministry in our own backyard.
I cannot be where you are any more than you can be where I am. Are we committed to rolling up our sleeves and getting to work wherever we are? Our associations should be a place of encouragement and cooperation to accomplish exactly that, and they can be if we take the commands and examples of Scripture to permeate our understanding.
Return to Why An Association of Churches? page.