“You can observe a lot by watching” is a Yogi-ism credited to the legendary baseball player Yogi Berra.
I watch a lot of associations. They are the best part of denominational life.
I help associations serve with greater Kingdom effectiveness. When I do, I observe a lot of things.
One thing I observe is who gets the credit when an association does well. The spiritual answer is “God.”
Let’s assume that is the best answer and focus on the ongoing functioning of a Baptist association.
It is important to define the three possibilities: the association, the director and the churches.
When I say “association,” I mean the organizational entity we call a Baptist association. I contend the best associations are an organic movement of God and not an organization, but it is still fine to evaluate the organizational aspects of an association.
The director is the staff leader of an association. Increasingly the term “associational mission strategist” is catching on to identify this person.
Some associations have multiple ministry staff. Many have at least an administrative assistant. In these cases, we ought to include the staff when talking about who gets credit.
Then there are the churches. They are the churches in association with one another and represent the missional movement of God’s Kingdom among Baptists in their fellowship area.
From a missional movement perspective, the churches are the association. It is the interrelationships of the family of churches that define an association.
When something happens that enhances the fulfillment of the Great Commission in the spirit of the great commandment because of the ministry of churches in association, who gets the credit?
That is the key question. It is the most revealing observation I make when looking at associations.
When someone declares an association is great, to what are they referring? The organization? The director or staff? The missional movement of the churches?
Who is celebrated?
My observation reveals that what is frequently celebrated through multiple communication channels points to who gets the credit.
Examples are social media posts and stories written about the ministry of the churches in association and the pastors, staff and laypeople highlighted in stories.
You can also look at the celebration of successful events sponsored by the association, recognitions from the state convention and public affirmation shown to the AMS and the staff.
Observe the following situations as examples of celebrating something good that is happening in an association and see who gets the credit.
First, disaster relief volunteer training is held in an association. One-third of the churches send at least one person to the training. During the wrap-up a spokesperson says, “You are the churches that really understand what it means to be on mission.”
Many celebrations of this association are around events where they convince churches to attend. The state convention often wants to hold meetings in this association area because they can produce a crowd.
Second, one year an AMS preached six revivals and spoke to four regional men’s events in his association. In reporting on this at his board meeting he shared the results of the revivals and men’s events, especially the number of new Christians.
He also promoted his availability and urged churches to contact him before his calendar filled up for the spring. The AMS saw himself as the evangelist for the churches and often had lunch meetings with pastors promoting his availability.
Third, at an annual associational gathering presentations were made by two groups from multiple churches. One group included six churches that partnered with a struggling church in a challenging ministry context.
They provided volunteers, equipment and supplies and financial support for the church as it launched a new initiative in its community. Five families from the fostering churches agreed to minister alongside that church for two years as new leadership was recruited and discipled.
Another group consisted of four churches that engaged in a pilot project to create a foster parent and child ministry not only to recruit foster parents, but also to set up the various support systems needed.
If you have not guessed by now, I’m convinced the best credit should go to the churches in association with one another that participate in mutual ministry from the base of their fellowship area.