Ray Gentry says he’s excited to be in the midst of what he considers “the renaissance of associationalism” in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Gentry, president of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders, said associations “are important to the overall work of God’s Kingdom because [they] are churches coming together on mission in their setting to advance the gospel.”
There’s a long history of that kind of cooperation, Gentry added.
“Baptist churches in America have realized that they can do more together than they can separately since 1707 when the Philadelphia Baptist Association was formed,” he explained. “No church can fulfill the Great Commission in their community and local missions field on its own. We need each other.”
In cooperating, Gentry said Southern Baptists are following the example of Paul, who led the churches of the New Testament to collect offerings for the church in Jerusalem.
“Our churches do better when they collaborate together as an association for missions, evangelism, leadership development, church planting and church revitalization,” Gentry asserted.
And he feels in recent days that cooperation has gotten stronger, not only inside associations but among them. SBC has more than 1,100 associations, and nearly half are now members of SBCAL, the largest percentage in the organization’s 62-year history, Gentry noted.
“And we’re adding new guys all the time.”
Right now he is the organization’s president in addition to his role as associational mission strategist for Southside Baptist Network in McDonough, Georgia. But starting July 1, 2023 Gentry will serve with SBCAL full time, a move voted on at the group’s annual meeting in Anaheim in June.
Gentry said the goal is for him to focus more on resourcing and equipping associational mission strategists across the U.S.
“What I have found through the years is that a lot of guys come into this role and they don’t know what to do, or they don’t know the extent of the work. It’s similar to pastoring, but it’s different,” he noted. “One of the things I envision doing is leading cohorts of associational mission strategists, especially new guys, and help them learn from each other and learn from experienced people.”
Gentry said he’s grateful to see how God has used a book he edited, “The Baptist Association: Assisting Churches, Advancing the Gospel.”
“Guys who are considering going into associational leadership are finding it and telling me it’s helpful,” Gentry affirmed. “God is using that resource as well as connections and networking to help us keep raising the bar for what is an effective associational leader; to help us be more effective at what we do in helping churches collaborate in missions and ministry in their Jerusalem.”
Increasing numbers of state conventions are partnering with SBCAL to provide training and resources for their associations by paying for SBCAL membership for associational mission strategists, Gentry said.
SBCAL also has a representative from every SBC seminary and entity on its board, which Gentry said means they “consider associations an important part of the SBC ecosystem.”
“I’m excited about where we are, and the direction we’re going,” he said. “And we’re excited to get positive feedback along the way.”
For more information visit sbcal.org.