by Allan Eakin, Associate Editor
Over the last several months, conversations about renewing the vitality and interest in our associated work have grown in number and frequency. That is encouraging.
The response to the special insert,Why Do We Associate in the April 19 issue of the Baptist Trumpet, has been positive. So much so that the Baptist Trumpet chose to produce a booklet containing those six articles and make it available to anyone who desires to receive a copy free of charge. The Baptist Trumpet followed up the April 19 insert with an Associational Involvement Survey for BMA pastors to complete. This survey asked pastors to provide input concerning their involvement in the associated work, the participation of the church they serve in the associated work and gave the opportunity to provide feedback about how to encourage greater participation in our associational work.
Amid the various conversations and the Associational Involvement Survey data, it became apparent that certain assumptions were made concerning understanding how our association of churches functions. While many pastors understand how the association functions, many members of BMA churches do not fully understand the relationship between the churches and the various levels of our association.
To that end, the Baptist Trumpet will publish several articles in upcoming issues to further the understanding of BMA Baptist Church members and thus further renew interest in our associational work. The goal is more cooperation at various levels to advance the kingdom of God through the Baptist Missionary Association.
Certain foundational principles exist concerning the relationship of a local BMA church to the Baptist Missionary Association as a whole:
• The local church is the foundation of everything. A local church plants another church, not associations. The local church is the governing agency, not the association.
• The local church is God’s plan A to reach the world with the gospel, and there is no plan B. Before ascending back to the Father, Jesus told the early church, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The Holy Spirit would empower them to influence their community (Jerusalem), the surrounding region (Judaea), regions beyond (Samaria) and, ultimately, the world (uttermost part of the earth). How could one congregation do that? History teaches that persecution thrust many Jerusalem believers into other areas of Europe and Asia. The Bible reveals a cooperative effort to establish churches in these same areas. Paul’s multiple missionary journeys focused on church planting and strengthening existing churches. The Bible also indicates that Paul encouraged different congregations to work together. One such situation was the collection of funds to assist a struggling Jerusalem church at one point.
Recognizing the biblical basis for working together, early BMA leaders encouraged churches to reach their community, work together with other churches in their area (local association) to spread the gospel, cooperate on a state level to establish larger ministries and unite on a national/international level to impact the world. The model was not necessarily original with BMA leaders, but was ideal for associational Baptists.
What does the average BMA church look like? The average BMA church looks like the majority (59%) of churches nationwide. They average about 60 worshippers on Sunday morning, have limited resources, are led by one pastor who is most often bi-vocational and church programs are led by volunteers (worshipleader.com/leadership/worship-in-the-average-church-in-america).
The average BMA church cannot impact the entire world alone, but by working together with other churches, it can be an instrument of change in a dark world through the power of God. The average BMA church may not be able to help finance every department on every level of our associated work, but the average BMA church can and should support some ministries. The average BMA church may not be able to give hundreds of dollars a month to Missions, Baptist Publishing House, Central Baptist College or the Baptist Trumpet, but most can give a few dollars each month. Consistent giving of any amount makes a huge difference to associated ministries.
While participation at any level of our associated work (local, state or national) is not required, that participation will undoubtedly benefit a congregation and neighboring congregations. Participation involves attendance at meetings, prayer for one another, conversations with each other, cooperative work and giving.
In Arkansas, there are 16 local associations. The number of churches in each association and the ministries they support vary. Some are very active local associations. For example, several local associations sponsor summer camps. A couple of associations sponsor the Association of Baptist Students (ABS) college ministries at Southern Arkansas University and the University of Arkansas. The Central Arkansas Association supports El Faro Bautista Iglesia in Little Rock. While these are a few that come to mind, others do a magnificent job of cooperating with other churches in their area to sponsor various other ministries. A church may choose which local association in which it wants to participate. A church may choose its level of participation. A church may determine what level of financial participation it wants to have. However, participation and giving will expand the reach of a participating church and will enhance its ministry.
On the state level, the BMA of Arkansas has four departments — Arkansas State Missions, the Baptist Trumpet, Central Baptist College and the Arkansas State Youth Department (Student Ministry Matters). Beginning with the Jan. 10 issue, we will feature articles about each of these ministries that will share where they are located, their ministry structure, financial needs and ways to get involved in supporting these ministries of your association. Other states or regions have similar ministries.
Here again, a church may choose to participate in the state association, the level of financial support and its level of involvement. However, participation and giving will expand the reach of a participating church even further.
On a national level, the BMA of America has seven departments — BMA Global (Missions), Lifeword, BMA Seminary, Baptist Publishing House, Daniel Springs Encampment, Moral Action Agency and BMA Financial Services — along with several sponsored ministries. The reach of some of these ministries is primarily North America, while the reach of others is worldwide. The local church may choose its participation level and level of financial support.
Over the next few weeks, pastors are encouraged to talk to church members about these articles. BMA church members are asked to seek God’s guidance in supporting some or all the ministries and discuss that prompting with their pastor. We will make these articles available to the public on our website (baptistttrumpet.com). Let’s keep the conversation moving forward.
Return to Why An Association of Churches? page.