I love my family. I love being with my family. I love spending time with them. Family is important.
This year is a special family year for me as the world moved out of the worst times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This past March, members of my extended family attended my retirement dinner from Columbia Metro Baptist Association in Columbia, South Carolina. In June, my wife and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary and gathered our children and grandchildren for a beach trip.
In July, my two sisters and I sponsored our biennial Bullard family reunion where we gather four generations of our family.
Then on Labor Day weekend, much of our family came to western North Carolina to watch my oldest grandson play in a football game for the college where he is a sophomore.
Admittedly, family is not always a love feast. While deeply caring about one another, we still experience episodes that test our love.
Families go through seasons where some estrangements exist. These episodes usually deepen our prayer life and sometimes reach a resolution.
When considering the complexities of family life, I often think about the family composed of the loving father, the prodigal son, the elder brother and the servants. Families can be dysfunctional, yet still experience acts of great kindness toward one another.
Engage five senses
When I think about an association of Baptist congregations, the image I focus on is that of family.
When I served as director of CMBA, it was a family of congregations, and the churches had sibling relationships.
Associations engage all five senses in understanding their family. They see, hear, touch, smell and taste congregations. They even have an intuitive sixth sense about some congregations when the relationship goes deep.
Associations rejoice when congregations rejoice. They cry when congregations cry.
When congregations engage in activities that mirror a prodigal son, the association desires to wrap their arms around them in prayer and compassion.
Some congregations mirror the elder brother and demand everyone see what they are doing. They want all congregations to follow their rules and know they are the model.
Bathed in prayer
Associations also bathe these congregations in prayer, yet may find it more difficult to hold them close.
In the mix are servant congregations who seek to be faithful to God’s call. They may not be case studies of effectiveness or innovation, but they are loyal and earnest.
Associations know the back story of congregations.
No other dimension of our denomination has the potential for this intimate relationship with the full family of congregations.
Associations are organisms rather than organizations. Relationships are a high priority — even a core characteristic.
Consider the lanes the three dimensions of our denomination travel in as introduced in the The Baptist Paper.
Because of the depth, breadth and agility of relationships, associations are in the correct lane along the virtual three-lane highway of Baptist denominational ministry as they boldly go forth in the acceleration lane.