Associations meant to offer connection point for churches

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

Pop quiz — what’s the name of your local Baptist association? What’s the name of your associational missions director? What does your association do?

If you don’t know the answers JoBeth Gamble is one of many who would tell you that you should. Gamble — a member of a tiny-but-thriving mountain church in Stevenson called Helton Memorial Chapel Missionary Baptist Church — knows her association’s missions director because she sometimes calls him “preacher.” 

Her church has been without a pastor for five years and Dwight Everett, director of missions for Tennessee River Baptist Association, fills the pulpit often.

He also rounded up help from other churches in their local association to help replace the church’s floors after flooding caused them to rot.

And that kind of service is just the tip of the iceberg.

Kristy Kennedy, an associate in the office of associational missions and church planting for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said associations — a network of churches bound together by geography and a common mission — can accomplish a lot when it comes to missions and the spread of the gospel.

“Since associations focus on our ‘Jerusalem,’ or local community, they are vital to meeting community needs,” she said. 

With that in mind Oct. 20–26 — the Week of Prayer for Associational Missions — is a perfect time to get to know your local association or get engaged even more than you already are. Consider these ways suggested by associational leaders to help you get involved during the week of prayer and beyond to support your local association:

1. Engage with your association in missions.

This can mean local, North American or international missions efforts.

Tom Stacey, director of missions for Selma and Cahaba Baptist associations, said he’s seen a lot of relationships built and lives changed through various partnerships and projects.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to get involved in ministry and relationship to other people in your local area who go on those trips,” he said.

2. Connect with your association on social media.

Wendell Ray, elevating mission strategist for Escambia Baptist Association, said one of the best ways to know what’s going on in his association is to connect on Facebook.

For example on the association’s Facebook page “we have a post every Tuesday called Teacher Tuesday,” he said. “We ask people to pray for schoolteachers on that day.”

It’s a good entry point for people to get to know more about the way the association is engaging the community.

3. Invite your associational leader to speak at your church.

If you’re ready to deep dive into what your association has to offer consider inviting your local associational leader to speak in your church.

Rick Ellison, director of missions for Baldwin Baptist Association, said this is a great way to find out about local ministries. 

“We can come together and do missions — more than we would be able to do by ourselves,” he said. “The association is also a great resource and helpful problem solver for churches.”

4. Encourage your association’s pastors.

Most associations include a number of bivocational pastors. Chris Crain, executive director of missions for Birmingham Metro Baptist Association, said one great way to strengthen your association is to help them honor and encourage those pastors.

“Many of these church leaders are overworked and undercompensated,” he said. “Churches and church members have blessed me with gift cards, new books, access to vacation properties and other resources. These gestures go a long way to encourage stressed-out ministers and to strengthen the bond they have with the local association.”