This is Associational Emphasis week in the Southern Baptist Convention. So I thought I would write a couple of posts dealing with the following question: Is the Baptist association still needed?
One of the things being brought to our attention as Southern Baptists with the Great Commission Resurgence is the inefficient spending of cooperative program funds. Specifically, people have a problem with the duplication of efforts. This is a valid concern. It is both an issue of good stewardship and responsibility. And let’s just be honest, is there really a need for church growth experts, or evangelism trainers, or church resource specialists at the state, SBC and associational level? I recommend listening to the most recent Insight Podcast which is an interview with Johnny Hunt. In part 1, the host quotes Dr. Mike Day from the Mid-South Baptist Association. Dr. Day relays an example of the same function being performed by the three levels. This is just a real-life example of why the question should be asked. Are associations necessary?
The most significant reason why there would be a change in the need for associations would be because the world is flat. Allow me to explain what I mean by the flat world. The flat world concept comes from William Friedman’s book, The World Is Flat. The thesis of the book is that technologically and politically we have reached a point in which a place on the other side of the country or the other side of the world can be reached instantly. We have globalized nearly everything and the distance between us has shrunk to a negligible amount.
So what dies this have to do with Baptist associations? In order to answer his question, I’ll need to explain what the purpose of a Baptist association is and how it works. The Baptist association is a gathering of cooperating churches to do ministry on a local level. Interestingly, because of the strongly held Baptist view of church autonomy, this is the same definition for a state convention or the SBC. (They are just different geographically) This connection of churches cooperate to carry out ministry on a local level and to help one another with training, resources, and historically, even finances.
This is the same definition of the SBC and the state Baptist conventions. With the flat world making distance less significant, that explains the duplication of functions. Many people feel that the weakest of the 3 levels is the local association. Hence my question.
Now that the explanation is out of the way, tomorrow I plan to actually answer the question, are associations still necessary.
Before I get there, I would like to hear from you in the comments. Do you think the local association is still needed? Even though the world is flat? Even though many of the same functions are performed on the state and SBC level?