In 2023, we began making a concerted effort to encourage more conversations about why the churches of the Baptist Missionary Association chose to come together and form an association of churches. We published the “Why Do We Associate?” insert in the April 19 issue and produced the same content in booklet form available to anyone who would like to have one. We also shared a survey with pastors to understand how we can do better in encouraging involvement in our association on every level — local, state and national.
Some of the feedback from the survey said we shouldn’t assume people already know about the ministries of the association. With that idea in mind, we chose this time of year when we have traditionally allowed all BMA ministries to share their goals for the new year to allow them to expand on that by sharing the story of their ministry. These ministries are only possible because churches choose to work together to do more for the glory of God and the furtherance of His mission.
As was presented in the article “Moving the Conversation Forward” by Associate Editor Allan Eakin in the Dec. 20, 2023 issue, the local church is the foundation of all that happens in our associational work. It is the foundation of every associated ministry, and every ministry has a goal to, in some way, strengthen and/or establish healthy, growing local bodies of believers. Our association of churches is stronger and more effective when every church actively participates in the associational work on every level. Your church should join and participate in local, state, and national associations.
Local — As we begin to look at how we associate, we will look at the first level beyond the local church, which is the local association (sometimes referred to as a district association). A local association is a group of local churches in a certain geographic area that choose to associate together to do more together than the individual churches could do alone. I wish we had space to share all the great things many local associations are doing across Arkansas (and across the BMA of America), but we simply do not have the space to do so. The variety of ministries that local associations choose to cooperate together and invest in range from church camps and college ministries to sponsoring foreign missionaries. The point is each individual church realizes that when they come together, they can do more to share the gospel with a lost and dying world.
State — Beyond the local association, churches in a state can also choose to associate together. Here is a time to recognize a distinguishing factor of BMA churches — local church autonomy. This means that each church has complete authority over what the church does and how they do it. Just because a church chooses to join a local, state or national association does not mean they give up any control of their local congregation. There are requirements to agree both doctrinally (Doctrinal Statement) and how things are done (Principles of Cooperation). In light of this, it is possible for a church to choose to associate on the state level but not with a local association. Local associations do not join the state or national associations. It is up to each individual church to make that decision.
As would be expected, state associations are generally made up of more churches, so they are able, in most cases, to have a broader scope of ministry than a local association.
National — On the national level, the same principle applies regarding whether each individual church chooses to join or not. A church could choose to associate with the national association and not be a member of a local or state association. As with the state association, the number of churches is larger for the national association, so the scope of ministries is also larger.
One other note for each of these levels of association is how each ministry is supported. On each level of association — local, state and national — there is no pool of money that is used to support the ministries. On the local level, any funds collected from the churches are passed along to the ministries as the churches, through the local association, see fit to do so. For the state and national associations, each individual ministry of the association must raise their own support to keep the ministry going. No church is required to support the associational ministries, but it is important to note that the association’s ministries could not continue without faithful church support.
Beginning with next week’s issue, we will be giving space to allow the ministries of the BMA of Arkansas and BMA of America to share the stories of their ministries. I asked each department leader to share their story as if they were writing to someone who had no knowledge of their ministry and was a new believer or new member of a BMA church. Through this series of articles, I hope you will become better acquainted with how being associated together allows a greater reach for the local church and how important it is for every church to support associated ministries faithfully.
If you have any questions, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Return to Why An Association of Churches? page.