Baptist associations nurture, care for and challenge congregations to be the best they can be in representing Christ. They coach them to soar with faith, to mature as Christ-centered communities and to serve as missional outposts within the Southern Baptist orbit.
They are a family.
Particularly in urban areas, the family of congregations is diverse. They have many perspectives on congregational life, missional engagement and their relationship with the wider denomination.
No one understands this diversity any better than the associational director/mission strategist. Often a sensitive, even confidential, relationship exists between the director and pastors, staff and lay leaders. Even in secular legal terms this relationship is recognized and protected through priest-penitent laws.
That made the message Jack Belew,* director for Metropolitan Baptist Association,* received from the Southern Baptist Convention Credentials Committee troubling. The committee shared concerns about seating messengers at the next SBC annual meeting from three congregations. Belew was aware of confidential information about each congregation. Some had been shared publicly by these congregations, but some had not.
Memorial Church* is nearly 200 years old. It is the mother church of many other Baptist churches in the state. Long before the first Baptist Faith and Message statement was adopted in 1925, the church had developed its own statement of faith.
Statement of faith
The church believed its statement took precedence over any other formal statement of SBC. At several points, it was not in line with SBC faith statements.
It, nor the association, had ever discussed this publicly. In fact, very few people knew about it.
The pastor and other staff or lay people from Memorial occasionally served on state convention and SBC boards or committees. When asked, several laypersons would freely speak about where the church’s beliefs differed from the SBC BF&M.
First Church* was less than 50 years old. When founded, it embraced the 1963 BF&M as its doctrinal guide. While women were ordained as deacons, none were ordained ministers, especially not for a pastoral role.
About 20 years ago, the church had open discussions about its denominational affiliation and the 2000 BF&M. The church allowed members to designate the missions percentage of their tithes and offerings to either the Cooperative Program or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Several points in the 2000 BF&M led to heated debate, so the church kept the 1963 BF&M as its doctrinal guide.
First Church was among the top 10% of churches in the state convention in annual contributions through the Cooperative Program and was third in contributions to the association.
Gate City Church* was an intentional church plant in a diverse under-reached community. The founding pastor, not ordained as a Southern Baptist pastor, was courted by three different denominations. Only one was Baptist. All three funded the launch of this congregation.
Finances for this congregation were tight during the early years. Financial contributions were sporadic.
The pastor proactively sought leadership roles in the denominations. Southern Baptists seemed mostly receptive out of a genuine desire to have leadership from
demographically diverse churches. He gained formal roles with the association and the state convention.
Later a non-Baptist denomination sought his involvement in a top role. He discovered it was strict about generous financial contributions for a pastor’s participation in leadership.
The church shifted most of its contributions to this non-Baptist denomination. They only maintained the minimum through the Cooperative Program to qualify for participation in GuideStone programs and to have messengers at the SBC annual meeting.
Belew had a meaningful relationship with these churches and their pastors. He was nurturing them to a deeper missional engagement in the association’s Great Commission strategy. He respected the three pastors and treasured their friendship.
Belew thought about this as he prepared to return the email from the credentials committee. What would he say? Why would he say it? Because of the autonomy of the association in the SBC system, should he even say anything? What would be your advice?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jack Belew, Metropolitan and the three congregations are composite examples based on facts, but not an actual director, association or congregations.