Bill Gernenz is a pastor in East Texas and blogs at “Broken and Undone.” This is the first in a three part series on Associations that appeared at his blog.
Tuesday morning brings about a dozen pastors/ministers/church leaders together for breakfast. It is a wonderful time of fellowship that ends in a brief time of prayer. I value my relationships with each of these men, BUT…
…though most of us are members of the same local Baptist association, there is not much else we do together. I suspect most other local Baptist associations – and state conventions – have the same story. Through associational giving, we support some common ministries but there is not much, well… association.
There was some recent discussion surrounding state conventions, and while I have had several conversations about the issue, to be honest I did not read much of what was said in the blogosphere. One particular tweet, however, did catch my attention. In short (as I read it), Tim Brister proposed that associations/conventions are being replaced by networks. And in part, I believe there is something very true in his statement. Consequently, there is also something very instructive.
From my observation, I believe that associations are struggling mainly because they do not do much associating. Conversely, networks appear to be doing well because they are indeed networking.(As best as I can tell for I am not in one.) Now, I am not trying to be trite, but rather, touch on a need that all pastors have and few pastors pursue. We need to be connected and networks appear to be doing that. Associations are not faring as well. I am trying to put my finger on why — and perhaps, you can help. I have several theories and they are not mutually exclusive.
Associations are struggling because (1) they have a limited pool of pastors and (2) a diverse group of pastors. Associations are more/less limited in who they are trying to appeal to, usually pastors of a particular denomination in a particular geographical setting. Compounding the difficulty, not every pastor in an particular association will believe in cooperating in the context of that association.
Networks on the other hand benefit from (1) a kind of “open enrollment” and (2) those pastors who are a part of a network have chosen that particular network (as opposed to being placed in an association). By “open enrollment” I mean that they are not geographically limited and are only as doctrinally-specific as the leaders (and perhaps their purpose) demands. The benefits are great for those involved: a wide swathe of relationships with pastors of a like-mind who actually want to be there. It is no wonder that our associations/conventions are hurting.
So where does that leave us – those of us who still believe in local associations and state/national conventions? The truth is: I don’t know. Smaller associations may continue to decline until the meaningless bureaucracy dissolves. This (unfortunately) will also mean that some meaningful ministry will also be dropped (if not absorbed by an able church or established as an independent ministry). Larger associations/conventions may continue to limp along, chasing their tails in a genuine effort to accomplish some good and minister to some churches, becoming little more than large banners under which sub-groups artificially co-exist.
I’m not satisfied with either.
I believe, the answer is up to pastors. As valuable as networks are, there is something necessary and invaluable to the local associations. And if the local associations can get it right, the conventions will begin to fix themselves.
Pastors must decide that joining together with other pastors of like faith is valuable. Pastors must value doctrinal differences within orthodoxy. Pastors must also gain an appreciation not only the fruit of local cooperation but for the kingdom mindset it cultivates and the gospel spirit it reflects. All in all, cooperating with other pastors (some of whom we would choose as co-laborers) is a way for pastors to practice the very things we challenge our church members to do – the laying aside of personal preferences for the sake of kingdom advance.
I greatly value networks for what they provide for pastors and churches; I also greatly value associations for what they would require from pastors — and the rich partnerships, personal growth, and gospel fruit that result.