As churches seek to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, polling data suggests they are turning to their local Baptist associations for assistance more than any other group. So the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL) focused its first ever virtual conference on helping churches emerge from COVID-19.
Twenty-one percent of Southern Baptist congregations say their association is providing them more help during the pandemic than any other individual or group, according to polling by Gloo, a technology organization partnering with the Barna Group to study churches amid COVID-19. That was the poll’s top response, ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention (18%) and state and local government officials (17%). Conference speakers at the April 30 SBCAL webinar asked associational leaders to consider how they can maintain that degree of influence as the crisis subsides.
The pandemic presents Christian leaders with an unprecedented “degree of freedom” to “really inspect your mission and your strategy in this moment,” Brad Hill, Gloo’s head of network and partnership strategy, told the 285 associational leaders in attendance. “It’s not often that we get the ability to do that in such a profound way.”
Cohosted by Gloo, the webinar featured teaching sessions by associational mission strategists and several Southern Baptist national entity leaders.
Part of the impetus for SBCAL’s virtual conference was the coronavirus-related cancellation of the organization’s June annual conference in Orlando, Florida.
Alabama Baptist leaders participate
Numerous Alabama Baptist associational leaders participated in the virtual conference and appreciated the opportunity to connect with and learn from one another virtually. For Steve Dunn, self-described “rookie associational missionary strategist” of Bethlehem and Pine Barren Associations, the virtual meeting was “the next best alternative” to holding the meeting as an in-person conference.
Dunn said the virtual conference was an “excellent example of how to transition to greater conference efficiency,” as it reduced or eliminated expenses related to conducting and participating in conferences. This particular conference, he noted, “was a great source of information with one of the best on-line formats I’ve experienced.”
Associational missionaries “desire the fellowship of those who are experiencing similar joys and battles,” said Neal Hughes, director of missions of Montgomery Baptist Association. The virtual meeting “allowed associational missionaries to receive inspiration and information.”
Chris Crain, executive director of the Birmingham Baptist Association, added, “Since the beginning of the pandemic, associational leaders have been working nonstop to encourage and equip pastors and churches to stay true to their mission amid the crisis. Frankly, most of us are tired and in need of refreshing. The SBCAL conference provided needed encouragement for the encouragers.”
SBCAL leaders say they will continue to offer online events along with in-person conferences even after physical gatherings become possible again.
Many of the virtual conference addresses were based on chapters in SBCAL’s forthcoming book “The Baptist Association: Assisting Churches, Advancing the Gospel,” due out in June.
“The relevance of the virtual conference was amazing. From our homes and offices, we had the opportunity to learn how to better relate to and coach our pastors. The focus was on developing relational proficiency. The heart and soul of associational ministry is building the foundation of relationships upon which mission and ministries are built. We heard from many of our national entity leaders and how they are facing current issues,” Crain said. “I was enriched beyond measure.”
Hughes commended the conference’s various speakers “who serve in or in support of the associational context.” A key take-away for Hughes came from speaker Todd Robertson, who serves as AMS for Louisville Regional Baptist Association.
Be ‘authentic and humble’
Robertson encouraged each of his fellow associational leaders, Hughes said, to “be an authentic and humble leader, leading from your knees and not your computer.”
Dunn said he was inspired by the presentation of Bob Dean, executive director of Dallas Baptist Association, who urged associational leaders to be “vocal encouragers” of pastors. The Bible is filled with stories of God’s encouragement to struggling believers, Dean said, providing an example for AMSs to follow. “The purpose of being a vocal encourager ought to be to equip a pastor to find his strength in the Lord.” Dean’s presentation “motivated me to learn his list of biblical examples as I have opportunity to speak to leaders going through difficult times,” said Dunn.
A recording of the virtual conference will be posted for SBCAL members at SBCAL.org. (BP contributed)