Recently I toured the Bunker at the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia. It was once the secret location where the U.S. Congress would have moved in case of an attack on Washington.
From 1962 until 1992 it was hiding in plain sight as conference rooms for the hotel with public lodging rooms above it.
Contained within the Bunker were rooms for the House of Representatives and the Senate to meet in session while in exile. Meeting, sleeping and eating were all handled in the Bunker, which functioned as an ecosystem with its own life support features. Concrete fortifications encapsulated the Bunker. Thick metal doors could seal the area when needed.
The Bunker was a safe place in waiting, but it also functioned as a conference center and exhibit hall for public gatherings. Unseen was how this area could quickly transform into a safe haven for our federal legislative bodies.
The Bunker was hiding in plain sight. The people attending events at the Greenbrier did not know they were in an emergency shelter.
Baptist life in its purest form
In our Baptist denomination we have an amazing secret hiding in plain sight. It is Baptist life in its purest form. Its value is one of the best kept secrets in our Baptist tradition. Congregations are in the midst of it all the time, yet few see and understand its beauty.
The Baptist association is this amazing secret. Associations are hiding in plain sight. This secret has qualities churches often do not realize.
Here is one quality. The character and nature of associations are significantly different than those of state conventions and Southern Baptist Convention national entities and groups.
Associations are organisms. They are living, breathing, moving and changing. Associations are the relationships continually emerging from the fellowship of churches spiritually engaged in Kingdom endeavors.
State conventions and national SBC entities are organizations. They have a more programmatic focus on visible projects and the fulfillment of organizational goals.
Their goals involve promoting action, devoting resources and preparing people to fulfill the Great Commission. They, like associations, have a unique and significant role in our denominational family.
One of the heroes of Baptist associations during the last 60 years was Russell Bennett. His doctoral dissertation was on associations.
His associational service included the Associational Missions Division of the Home Mission Board, SBC (now the North American Mission Board) and serving as executive director of Long Run Baptist Association in Louisville, Kentucky.
Bennett spoke during a meeting of associations just prior to the 1978 SBC Annual Meeting in Atlanta.
During his speech he sought to make a distinction between associations and other organizations in SBC life. He wanted to clarify that an association is not a building, a meeting, a staff or an occasional moment or encounter.
Rather, his assertion was that associations are about fellowship and a commitment to God’s mission among member churches.
They are hiding in plain sight as a linchpin for the effectiveness of Southern Baptists.
In the coming months I will share spiritual and strategic aspects about Baptist associations. I will advocate for a conversation about the unique value and worth of associations as an amazing secret hiding in plain sight.
Vital and vibrant
Southern Baptists need associations to be vital and vibrant for the denomination to be strong and effective.
My personal mission is to champion the cause of Baptist associations as an autonomous part of our overall denominational system.
Stay connected with these articles to learn more amazing secrets about Baptist associations.
Share your observations, insights and reactions with me at BullardJournal@gmail.com.
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.