In our Southern Baptist Convention, the SBC churches in an area form themselves into an association. Usually, it’s the churches within one county, but often several counties (in Louisiana, counties are called “parishes”) go together to form an association. Our New Orleans Baptist Association (called NOBA) comprises churches from the tip of the Mississippi River, 100 miles northward into New Orleans and beyond, which takes in the parishes of Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Orleans, Jefferson, St. Charles, and some in St. John the Baptist.
Here’s what often happens, as it did recently.
I’ll be preaching a revival in a middle-sized town somewhere in the South. Often, I’ll meet with the pastors’ in the city and speak to them, maybe give them copies of one of my books. At some point, I’ll ask the host pastor, “Does the pastor of the First Baptist Church attend these meetings?”
You would be distressed to know the answer is frequently, “Never. They don’t participate in anything the association does.”
Big, big mistake.
Speaking to the Alabama Baptist Convention meeting at the FBC of Montgomery a few years back, I addressed this phenomenon. “Pastors need each other. You pastors of the First Baptist Churches, you need these other pastors. So, quit being a big shot. Get off your high horse, and act like a brother in Christ.” You could hear the “ooooh” roll across the auditorium.
I had struck a nerve.
Now, there are plenty of exceptions. David Crosby is the longtime pastor of the FBC of New Orleans. No church is more involved in the local association than his, no pastor more than he. Likewise, Don Davidson at FBC Alexandria, VA. Shawn Parker of FBC Columbus, MS.
Here’s my quick testimonial.
As the seminary-student pastor of a bayou church 25 miles west of New Orleans, I attended meetings of pastors and the association. Mercer Irwin was the DOM and Franklin Atkinson was associational moderator. (I’m just saying this as evidence that I really was involved.) I even recall Franklin’s associational sermon in 1968.
After seminary, I participated in the Washington County Baptist Association in Greenville MS. J. D. Lundy was the associational missionary. Thus, when the Lord led a friend and me to conduct a Delta-wide evangelistic crusade at the high school stadium, the association quickly got on board.
In my next pastorate, the FBC of Columbus, MS, they hastily made me moderator of the almost-defunct association and got more than they bargained for. I asked Ray Lloyd (FBC Starkville) and Joel Harris (FBC West Point) to lunch, and we decided to combine our small efforts into a work thereafter known as the Golden Triangle Baptist Association. The state convention helped us, and J. C. Mitchell became our first (and longtime) DOM. Our church’s minister of students Bryan Harris supervised the construction of the associational building on Willowbrook. The point of all this is to say our church was “all in” for the association.
In Charlotte NC, I was involved in the Mecklenburg Association. Our First Baptist Church was not the largest SBC congregation (Hickory Grove rules!), but no one was more involved than we. (Today, Bob Lowman leads the Metrolina Association there, and he has had me up to minister.)
So, in 1990, when I came to New Orleans to serve the FBC of Kenner, across the street from the N.O, airport, participating in the association was never an option for me. It was something I did. In all likelihood, that more than anything else, caused the search committee to turn to me in 2004 and ask me to serve 5 years as the director of missions. I was in that slot when Katrina roared through 18 months later and changed forever the landscape of the city and the ministries of our churches.
No one but the Heavenly Father knows how He will use you if you get involved in helping the other churches by participating in the association.
Here then are my top 5 reasons why the largest Baptist churches in the area need to be involved in the work of the association. Anyone looking for profundities can keep looking. This is not rocket science….
- You need the other pastors. The big-shot pastor who thinks he is above the other preachers is an embarrassment to the cause of Christ. We need one another.
- Your church needs the other churches. No congregation can reach its city alone; we need to hold hands and work together. The largest church needs the smaller ones.
- Your leadership needs fellowship with leaders of the other congregations, and to share ideas. Some of your leaders can feel mighty lonely until they sit down with their counterparts in the other churches and discover all the things they have in common.
- The smaller churches need encouragement.
- Your ministerial staff needs to know the other ministers for a hundred reasons. Obviously, the ministers of the large church may have gifts and talents to bless and enrich the other, smaller churches. But the reverse is just as true. Some of the ministers of those small churches–particularly the bi-vocational pastors–are as sharp as any expert from the state office. They will not, however, be announcing it or proclaiming it. You will discover it only by getting off your self-constructed pedestal and sitting across the table from them and listening to them.
Do this, and I promise you that Christ will be honored, your church will be strengthened, other ministers will be encouraged, and most surprising of all, you will find yourself to be more fulfilled in serving your Lord.
I suggest to the pastors of the larger churches that they take the initiative with steps like these….
–Call some of the other ministers for coffee. No agenda.
–Invite a neighboring pastor to fill your pulpit.
–For a special emphasis (Holy Week, revival, etc), have local ministers speak each day.
–Tell your staff you want them involved in the association, and make sure each one knows their roles. That is, they are there as full participants, not to sit in judgment or to become a critic.
–When the association does events, promote it among your people.
–Invite the association to have some of its gatherings in your church.
–When you have an outstanding guest preacher, schedule a time with the other pastors. When Dr. Adrian Rogers did a weeklong revival in my church, following the noontime services (conducted in the fellowship hall following lunch), each day, he pulled up a chair and visited for a full hour with the ministers. Many will never forget those discussions. (I sure won’t!)
Big Church Pastor, we may assume two things….
–that you will not always be at this church. Thus, you have a brief time to make a huge difference on the community, if you are smart enough and don’t mind humbling yourself.
–that some of these Small Church Pastors will not always be there either. Some are destined for greater assignments. What if you served as a role model for them, and made a difference in the way they ministered for the rest of their lives? What a powerful influence you have.
To repeat: What a powerful influence you have. So please. Get out of the office and use that influence for the Kingdom’s sake.