Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the ability to spend time with leaders from local associations all over the country. I’m grateful that, as I was beginning my time in ministry, I served with pastors who modeled for me the importance of being involved in a local association. Even now, though I am not serving as a pastor, the quarterly meetings of our local association are some of the most meaningful interactions I have with area pastors and churches.
As I was reflecting on the past couple of weeks, the value of the local association struck me. I want to share three things of great value that local associations bring to the table for pastors.
1. Relationships are formed in the local association
All of my ministry as a youth and music minister, then later as a pastor, was served in smaller, rural contexts. In some cases, our church was the only SBC church for miles around. Ministry can be isolating, even in a large city. It can be suffocatingly lonely in remote, rural communities.
For Southern Baptists, the local association is the first level of cooperation between churches. Associations are made up of pastors who are – generally speaking – serving in similar cultural contexts and who have a heart for their community or region. So, if you’re longing for relationships, reach out to your Director of Missions or Associational Missions Strategist, or even another area pastor, and begin forming a relationship.
2. Partnerships are formed in the local association
Churches all over North America are struggling. This was true before the Covid-19 pandemic, and it has become even bigger since then. So the truth is that you are probably either 1) serving in a church that is struggling or 2) you know of a struggling church in your area.
As I mentioned above, the local association is the first level of cooperation for Southern Baptists. That means the local association should be our first level of partnerships. Do you need extra workers for a VBS or other event that’s coming up? Reach out to churches in your local association. Is your church struggling to reach its neighborhood through effective evangelism? Another pastor in town could provide some evangelism training, or a couple of churches could form joint teams to do some door-to-door evangelism in their respective neighborhoods one or two weekends a month. (By the way, if you’re looking for some simple evangelistic outreach methods, check out NAMB’s free evangelism resources!)
3. Local associations help local churches fulfill the Great Commission
The average SBC church has fewer than 100 attendees on any given Sunday morning. In many cases, that makes it very difficult for a single church to organize an overseas mission trip or fund a new church plant. But, if organized through a local association, several churches could partner for a trip or a church plant. The saying is cliché, but it is true: We are better together.
Consider this as well: It speaks volumes to a community about the gospel when local churches work together as partners, rather than compete against one another as rivals. As we partner together, we preach about the power of the gospel – and that will serve as a witness to a lost and dying world.
Just like churches, no local association is perfect. They are, however, wonderful groups of churches who can work together to build relationships, create partnerships and help one another fulfill the Great Commission.