Like the Starship Enterprise of Star Trek fame, leading-edge Baptist associations throughout North America are boldly going where no association has gone before.
Associations are exploring virtual galaxies, developing a missional focus with creative and diverse styles, morphing into new forms that do not fit traditional ways of thinking, and discovering wormholes in space that accelerate their movement.
They are going on spiritual and strategic journeys that soar past the controversial issues captivating other dimensions of the denomination.
Yet at the same time, they are expressing support and loyalty for the overall Baptist movement.
Associations are autonomous. They choose to explore beyond current galaxies where other dimensions of the denomination may not travel. This makes them exciting and creative places to minister.
Baptist associations have a prime directive. In Star Trek the prime directive prohibited interference with the natural development of alien civilizations.
With Baptist associations the prime directive is to serve as a family of Great Commission congregations and to empower the full Kingdom potential of every congregation.
Not to interfere in congregations to remake them is only one way of fulfilling the Great Commission.
Associations help each congregation move in the direction of their full Kingdom potential in response to God’s calling. Congregations are empowered for their mission. They can collaborate with their family of congregations in fulfilling God’s mission locally and throughout various galaxies.
The first Baptist association in the South, Charleston Baptist Association, formed among four Baptist churches in the lowcountry of South Carolina in 1751.
In 1821 the first state convention, the South Carolina Baptist Convention, came into being, and the Southern Baptist Convention formed 24 years later in 1845.
With the leadership of Oliver Hart, pastor of First Baptist Church Charleston, a heroic step was taken to form the Charleston Association. Today, 271 years later, Charleston Association is still engaged in bold efforts to fulfill the Great Commission.
The city of Charleston, as well as the Baptist association, has a clear gospel history. Churches of multiple denominations also took bold steps to develop Christian efforts in the South. Many churches were formed and their historic facilities built in Charleston, so many that Charleston’s nickname is the Holy City.
Missions and education characterized the founding of Charleston Association.
Today, with Craig Tuck at the helm, they continually work to connect churches for Kingdom potential.
They boldly explore four virtual galaxies where they measure their progress: leaders strengthened, churches strengthened, churches multiplied and churches collaborated.
As they explore these galaxies, they keep in mind four values: collaboration, stewardship, multiplication and vitality.
Holy conversations often begin around tables where they build relationships, discover health, identify strengths and network people and congregations to leverage resources.
Charleston Association is not bounded in their missional engagements.
Along their journey they collaborate in an effort known as Mission Charleston. This brings together people, congregations, denominational organizations and marketplace organizations for missional engagement.
Just as the Starship Enterprise brought in Spock, a half Vulcan, as their science officer, so Mission Charleston brings together people with a common interest in Great Commission ministry. They represent different denominational traditions or marketplace settings.
Similar stories can be told about Baptist associations throughout North America.
It is important to note that this first association is still on a bold journey of missional exploration.
May an increasing number of associations boldly go where no Baptist association has gone before.
Editor’s Note — George Bullard spent 45 years in denominational ministry. He served on the staff of three associations, was a key staff person working with associations in two state conventions and served on the association missions division staff of the former Home Mission Board of the SBC. He retired in June 2022 as director of Columbia Metro Baptist Association in South Carolina. He has led strategic planning processes in more than 100 associations and has written extensively in this area. Bullard now serves as a strategic thinking mentor for Christian leaders through his ForthTelling Innovation ministry and a correspondent for The Baptist Paper. To request permission to republish this article, email firstname.lastname@example.org.