I consider myself a purist about Baptist denominational staff ministry. As a purist, I am an idealist with high standards for denominational service. I expect to hear from potential staff persons a unique sense of God’s spiritual call.
Out of my denominational service in national, state and associational roles, I believe associations are of the greatest beauty and importance. They are the best contributor to sharing the good news of Jesus. They are also most fragile because they are an organic movement that can change regularly.
I further believe the call to serve in an association is a unique spiritual call within God’s constellation of calls. The same is true for state conventions and national entities. However, the focus of the spiritual call is different in these organizations.
Asking tough questions
The call to serve in any denominational dimension should not be about praying the prayer of Jabez with hubris rather than humility.
Denominational service is not about expanding territory. It is about a unique call to service that must understand all dimensions of denominational life and how they interact.
For more than a decade I served as the key state convention staff member relating to more than 40 associations. I often worked with search committees seeking to call new staff.
I regularly had ministers meet with me to present themselves as potential candidates for associational positions. Among the many issues I asked them to speak to were:
First, I wanted to hear their story of a spiritual call to serve an association.
Asking people about a spiritual call to serve an association was a new question for many.
They had not thought about it. I wanted them to not only think about it, but to pray about it, and I would pray with them concerning their spiritual call.
Understanding God’s leadership is essential in associational ministry. Denominational service has “Blue Mondays” just like congregational ministry.
At times it will only be God’s spiritual call that will sustain an association’s staff.
Second, I wanted them to describe their philosophy of the ministry of an association. What does an association do? What makes the difference between a mediocre association and one exceptional in its service among congregations?
Third, I wanted them to tell me about their role models of lead staff persons in associations.
This third question often exposed a lack of suitability for an associational role. Many would describe how bad the associational staff members were that they had experienced in their ministry. They might also note how they would handle the role so much better.
Few had positive images of associational staff members.
Those who did would smile when talking about their role models. Their passion for their role models was palpable.
Going the extra mile
I also asked the ministers meeting with me to work on three more items. These items included some written work:
- Revise their biographical sketch to include roles they held in an association.
- Write a one-page story of their sense of spiritual call to associational ministry.
- Provide a one-page statement of their philosophy of the ministry of a Baptist association.
Too many times to count, those meeting with me would have one final question. They wanted to know how to contact the office that referred people to pastor and church staff search committees. When they asked this, I knew they were not called to associational ministry but were only seeking to leave their current place of ministry.
I heard back from less than half the people who visited me. They never completed their assignments.
Some I did hear from had their material placed at the back of my file cabinet after I reviewed it.
I could always tell them it was in my active file, and it was. It was just at the back of the file until I saw some evidence of a spiritual call to associational ministry. Harsh perhaps, but I saw it as discerning.
Remember, I am a purist.
I invite you to care deeply about the significance of the roles and the people who serve our associations.
Many more people need to be purists about their role and their understanding of God’s spiritual call to associational service.