Focusing on the gospel and unity, associational leaders held their 61st Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders on June 12-14 in Nashville, Tennessee.
The focus of this year’s meeting was “The Gospel-Driven Association.” Around 400 leaders, wives and guests were in attendance.
Speakers included Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee; Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board; Jared C. Wilson, assistant professor of pastoral ministry, author in residence, and general editor of For the Church at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Savannah Kimberlin, research director for Barna.
Speaker Tate Cockrell emphasized the need to care for the pastor’s needs well. Associational leaders have insight into their pastors and their churches, he said. Cockrell, associate professor of counseling and director of DMin studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, led a seminar on ministering to pastors in times of crisis.
“Pastors don’t trust easily,” Cockrell said, but he urged the leaders to have a plan and check on their pastors regularly. He encouraged them not only to get some training but also pray for them and their families.
In sharing about unity amidst diversity as Southern Baptists, Kevin Smith, executive director, Maryland-Delaware Baptist Convention, said associational leaders have the connections that state conventions and the larger SBC does not. Leaders need to find pastors who have a high view of Scripture, confirm the Baptist Faith and Message, make the Great Commission a priority and fund the Cooperative Program. Other differences shouldn’t matter. Putting prayer and Scripture together works wonders on souls, Smith said.
Speaking to the room of leaders, Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, said, “We need a revival of relationships. … How do we escape what Jesus said? ‘Love one another.’ … We know Jesus is the answer, and we know we must stand on the Bible,” Floyd said.
He highlighted three of the five Vision 2025 action items he planned to go through during his address to the SBC Annual Meeting on June 15: call out the called, reverse the decline in teenage baptisms and increase Cooperative Program giving.
Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board, also addressed the group. Each year, IMB tabulates statistics tracking “effectiveness in pushing the mission forward,” he said. Those numbers include conversions, baptisms and new church starts. Because of COVID-19 shutdowns across the globe, Chitwood said he wasn’t expecting much, but God was working. While 89,000 professed Christ in 2019, that number jumped in 2020 to 144,000.
Preaching out of Revelation 22:20–21, Chitwood focused on the promise of God repeated four times in these two verses: I am coming soon. Jesus is coming again, and He’s not leaving without his sons and daughters, Chitwood said. Because Christians are still here, “our mission is not yet complete,” he said. “We still have work to do. Let’s stick together and let’s be on mission.”
Jared C. Wilson, assistant professor of pastoral ministry, author in residence, and general editor of For the Church at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, highlighted the gospel. “The solution to less gospel is more gospel,” said Wilson, who wrote “The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace.”
He noted four traits of gospel-driven churches:
- Gospel-driven churches are constantly reminding. “This is because we are constantly forgetting.”
- Gospel-driven churches are constantly reprioritizing. As much as lost people, Wilson stressed that Christians need the gospel too.
- Gospel-driven churches are constantly repenting. “Judgment begins within the house of God,” he said.
- Gospel-driven churches are constantly reforming. “This makes so little of us,” Wilson said, “we wouldn’t have made up” Christianity. “To always be reforming means to always be returning to the gospel.”
Sessions were offered June 13-14 on a variety of topics: theology and doctrine, building relationships, engaging culture, unity and diversity, fostering healthy pastor transitions and more.
In her workshop, Savannah Kimberlin, research director for Barna, offered five insights on the church’s future:
- There seems to be warmth to digital and hybrid ministry.
- But a preference for physical gatherings remains.
- Casual faith conversations are the evangelism tactic of the future.
- Consider prayer as an engagement on ramp.
- Whole-life discipleship is a promising front door for many.
“We need to think bigger about discipleship,” she said.
SBCAL also elected its officers for the next year at its business meeting: Kevin Carrothers, chairman and associational mission strategist for Salem South Baptist Association in Mount Vernon, Illinois; Bob Lowman, vice chairman and executive director of Metrolina Baptist Association in Charlotte, North Carolina; and Philip Price, recording secretary and executive director of Jackson County Baptist Association in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
During the meeting, Asa Greear, director of missions of St. Johns River Baptist Association in Palatka, Florida, proposed raising the amount paid to SBCAL’s president and CEO’s salary by $2,000. In the current July 2021-June 2022 budget of $93,000, Ray Gentry, who serves in that role, would have received $12,000.
Greear said his association would pay for $1,200 of that amount. Rick Barnhart, who is the director of the office of associational missions and church planting with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions pledged to make up the remaining $800, and Mike Pennington, director of missions for Bledsoe Baptist Association in Gallatin, Tennessee.
Gentry also serves as associational mission strategist at Southside Baptist Network in McDonough, Georgia.
One of the resources highlighted was “The Baptist Association: Assisting Churches, Advancing the Gospel,” a book edited by Gentry and written by and for associational leaders.