Recently I came across a file from when my father served on the staff of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina just after World War II. He was the key staff person related to associations.
Among his papers was information about the associational staff in the late 1940s. Forty-two people served as associational missionaries throughout the state. Twelve of these leaders were women. More about this later.
The title associational missionary is of keen interest as we think about the heritage of Baptist associations. It caused me to remember a conversation with J.C. Bradley, a renowned theoretician of associationalism who also served later as an associational missionary in North Carolina.
J.C. worked in the associational missions division of the former Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) beginning in the 1970s. He wrote or edited administrative guides for the work of Baptist associations. “A Baptist Association: Churches on Mission Together” published in 1984 is an important book he authored.
His memory and style of operation was like that of a mainframe computer. He stored it in his mainframe-like brain. He then served as a ready resource.
He felt then, and still does today, that the best name for the staff leader of associations is associational missionary. He believes that speaks well into the core function of associations as a movement and family of congregations.
Three types of associational missionaries served North Carolina Baptists during the late 1940s.
First were city missionaries: These missionaries served the key urban areas of the state.
This intentional focus was a partnership with HMB. These city missionaries had a significant role in developing and guiding strategies to reach growing urban areas.
Second were pastoral missionaries: These were men who served as missionaries in associations to relate to pastors, guide the growth of churches and connect them deeply with the state and national denomination.
Third were education missionaries: These were women. Their role was to help churches develop the Christian education programs needed for effective church work. They acted as liaisons with state convention staff who led programs needed by these churches.
As a teenager, I got to know several of these women as they were friends of my parents. One was Elizabeth Campbell who served in Lenoir, North Carolina. We checked in with her annually when traveling to Ridgecrest Conference Center for various training weeks. Another was Ruth Prince, who served an association in eastern North Carolina and later was a state convention staff person in church programming.
Ultimately, all the women associational missionaries were replaced with men. These men identified well with the pastors, but may not have been as good at connecting with the laypersons leading the programs of the churches.
The women, who were often seminary trained in Christian education, were exceptional at working with rural and small town churches. They served an important niche.
In 1963, after a national conference on associationalism in Gulf Shores, Alabama, the title for the leader of Baptist associations became an exercise in alphabet soup. We had DOM standing for directors of missions all the way to the name today that was decided in national negotiations, but is still struggling for acceptance: AMS, which stands for associational mission strategist.
Along the way, the name executive director or something similar was used in larger urban areas. This name was better understood when these directors related to outside organizations or were involved in dealing with legal and other associational issues.
I used this title myself during recent years when serving as director of an association. It made things simpler when dealing with the uninformed secular world, real estate transactions, government filings and relationships with businesses.
Whatever title, the staff leader of the association must be clearly identified as an advocate for the congregations. A deep commitment is essential for helping congregations fulfill the Great Commission.
What title does your association use and why?