SBCAL members put their conference theme into action by praying over Ray Gentry, president of SBCAL, as his family walks through a grief process.
(Photo by Van Payne/The Baptist Paper)

Unity the theme for Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders in Anaheim

Unity was the message as more than 150 ministry leaders gathered for the 2022 Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders in Anaheim June 12–13.

The conference focused on the theme “Pursuing Love and Good Works,” based on Hebrews 10:24.

More than 100 spouses, sponsors and ministry partners also were there, and Ray Gentry, SBCAL president and CEO, called it a “great turnout” for a West Coast location.

Featured speakers were Ben Mandrell, president of Lifeway Christian Resources; Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary; Rick Curtis, assistant to the president at the North American Mission Board; Hance Dilbeck, president of GuideStone Financial Resources; Trevin Wax, vice president of resources and research at NAMB; and Steve Viars, pastor of Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana.

Ben Mandrell

Mandrell opened the conference speaking on three “basic disciplines of strong and mighty Christians”:

  1. They draw near to Christ in prayer.
  2. They hold on to hope in Christ.
  3. They provoke one another in love.

Prayer completes that list, Mandrell said.

“We draw near to the heart of God when we enter into prayer with the full assurance of our faith,” he said.

(Read more on Mandrell’s sermon here.)

Jeff Iorg

Referencing the “unprecedented” conflict that has flooded into church life over the past three years, Iorg spoke from Colossians 3 and emphasized “unity is grounded in our relationship with Jesus Christ.”

In Christ there are no racial differences, no religious differences, no cultural differences and no legal status differences, Iorg said.

“Our world wants to divide people up, put them in categories and give them privilege and honor and opportunity based on some of these categories,” Iorg said. “In Jesus Christ all this has been abolished. None of these differences divide us. We are one in Christ.”

And unity is a corporate effort, he emphasized.

“You do not build unity sitting in a coffee shop talking about how unified we need to be,” he said. “You build unity when you get another believer by the hand and go out and do something in the name of Jesus for somebody else.

“We get people doing things together, and in the process God has a way of unifying our hearts in a way only He can accomplish.”

Rick Curtis

Curtis challenged leaders to go beyond their primary mindset of leading others to Christ and define their secondary and tertiary mindsets.

“A secondary mindset can be very, very positive and … should give glory to your primary mindset,” he said. “A negative secondary mindset will actually diminish your primary mindset.”

Curtis called the role of associational leader “the single most important denominational role in the SBC because no one can transform the life of the local pastor like [an associational leader] can.”

“When God saw your geography and saw the purpose needed for that geography, He called your name,” Curtis said. “And to be a leader of leaders in God’s Church, among His bride, is no insignificant task.”

Hance Dilbeck

Speaking during the Sunday night dinner session, Dilbeck shared how GuideStone’s Mission:Dignity is helping retired pastors and widows financially. The testimony of those who receive assistance always includes gratitude, Dilbeck said. They are grateful “somebody cares.”

Trevin Wax

In the June 13 morning session, Wax offered four “signposts on the road to joy” from Philippians 4:2–9:

  1. We pursue unity in Christ.
  2. You show grace because you have hope.
  3. You pray because you are thankful.
  4. You focus because you have peace.

“It’s been a rough season for a lot of us, for a lot of our churches,” he said. “Go back to God’s word. … Refocus. … Recognize the road to joy matters because … God wants your joy more than you do.”

Steve Viars

In the final plenary session of the conference, Viars, author of “Loving Your Community: Proven Practices for Community-Based Outreach Ministry,” shared how Faith Church has become an influencing presence in its city by establishing community-based facilities and civic partnerships that serve both the church and the surrounding neighborhoods.

“There are a lot of people in our communities who believe God is dead or He’s really mad at them,” Viars said. “Why? Because the church close to them is either dead or really mad at them.”

“As we love our communities, as we look for opportunities to meet needs, that gives others the right opinion of our God,” he said. “We want our neighbors at all of our campuses to constantly have a reason to ask us, ‘Why did you do that for us?’ … Then we can say, ‘Because God loves you, and I’d love to tell you about how He demonstrated that [love] most supremely when He sent His Son to die on the cross.’”

Business meeting

SBCAL members met in a business session June 12 and approved a 2022–2023 budget of $160,000, an increase of $65,000 over last year’s budget. Members also adopted the 2022 Vision Script, which includes funding two full-time staff members, a president/CEO and a director of communications/event planner, beginning July 2023.

“This is a positive direction for us,” said Bob Lowman, SBCAL executive team vice chair and finance team leader.

SBCAL funding comes from three primary sources: associational ministry partners, including individual members and associations that provide ongoing financial support; SBC ministry partners; and conference sponsorships.

SBCAL membership has grown to nearly 500, thanks in part, Gentry said, to partnerships with several state conventions that pay the annual membership dues for all associational leaders in the state. Partner state conventions include Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Indiana. Members have access to SBCAL’s online library of resources, plus coaching and training tools including virtual conferences planned for August and January.

Likewise a growing number of local and regional associations provide regular, ongoing support, he said.

The planned expansion of SBCAL is a “step of faith,” he added, but members and state leaders recognize the need for more support and training of associational mission strategists and AMS search teams around the nation.

Gentry said he is pleased many AMS search teams are using the SBCAL-sponsored book “The Baptist Association: Assisting Churches, Advancing the Gospel.”

“We want to keep doing other resources, as well,” he said.

SBCAL members also elected officers for the 2022–2023 executive team. They are: Bob Lowman (North Carolina), chair; Todd Robertson (Kentucky), vice chair; James Risner (Ohio), recording secretary. Associational members who will serve on the executive team are: Josh Ellis (Texas, term expiring in 2023), Don Pucik (Louisiana, 2023), David Roberts (Michigan, 2023), Bob Bumgarner (Florida, 2024) Gary Mathes (Missouri, 2024), Scott Shields (South Carolina, 2024), Mike Carlisle (California, 2025), Chris Crain (Alabama, 2025), Steve Laughman (Georgia, 2025), and Jonas Perez (North Carolina, 2025).

This year’s Week of Prayer for Local Baptist Associations is Oct. 23–29, 2022. For more information on the organization, including downloadable resources for the Week of Prayer, visit sbcal.org.

View photos from the SBCAL Annual Meeting here.


 For more stories from the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, visit thebaptistpaper.org/sbc2022.

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