The Convention: A Case for its Value

My 33-year old son-in-law says we need associations and Directors of Missions. He is a pastor in upstate New York and says, for evangelicals, the work is hard and the pastors are scattered. Encouragement, fellowship, and resourcing are vital there.

However, we are in a post-denominational age. People want to feel they are more directly involved. They want to be hands-on in the work. They want a personal relationship with the missionaries they send. They hate business meetings. They detest systems. Here is how they have perceived the choices of previous generations regarding denominations:

  • They promote only the most non-controversial figures to denominational leadership (which eliminates people with an opinion or ideas – that is, interesting people).
  • Having two-day business meetings (b-o-r-i-n-g) where everyone talks about our GREAT convention and brag on each other.
  • You are asked to give to a nameless, faceless system, but you never get to see the ministry results of your giving.
  • Some of the missionaries you do hear take the subject of world evangelization and make it sound like a travelogue, instead of the greatest cause on planet earth.

Admittedly, that’s not just what it has looked like, that’s what it has sometimes been. But there is another perspective. The Southern Baptist Convention has some advantages. They include:

  • We get things done without spending excessive resources on fund raising. We don’t have to spend enormous amounts of money on television time to feed hungry people in third world nations. Instead, 100% of our world hunger offerings go to feed people. No, you won’t get a letter back from a child, but the money spent on postage, stationary, and having staff to help the children write the letters–well, we use it to buy food to feed more hungry people.
  • You don’t have to be famous or have a magnetic personality to get funding. Isn’t that kind of an unfair expectation? Not only do you have to faithfully get the job done, you have to do it with flair and get us emotional in your report. It was a surprise to me to discover the reason many missionaries can adapt so well to such a radically different culture is their easy-going approach. Dynamic personalities are more fun to hear give reports, but they are not always what is needed on the field.
  • Avoiding wasteful duplication and redundancy is a good thing. If every mega-church has its own version of a missions-sending agency, then add them all up and God’s people are paying for a lot of duplication. And before it’s over, the little churches – those running a mere 700 or something in attendance – are left out, because they can’t afford to add such staff.
  • Institutional memory is another way of saying “experienced.” We all learn what works by trial and error. We try something and we realize with this improvement or that, it could work even better. If every church has to re-invent every single wheel, that is bad stewardship of our memories. Proverbs has some good guidance on this.
  • Associations and LeaderCare offices in our state conventions provide a safety net when you are in trouble. When the sharks circle you, where will you go? What if your spouse needs counseling? Or if you are suddenly terminated without cause? Or your church is in conflict and you need objective, outside mediation? Or you have been at your church a long time and it is time for a move? Lone wolves, by definition, are just that–all alone.
  • Having a peer group of fellow pastors provides collegiality, counsel, and encouragement. Sure, some will say those old guys don’t know how we must approach ministry now, they are of no practical help to me. And the ear says to the eye, I have no need of you.

But let’s look at this further. Below is a list of the systems of the Baptist Association. Look it over and then tell me which one is not of value in the kingdom of God.

1. The Strengthening Churches System

  • Training events on Christian living and for Christian service
  • Stewardship resources and promotion
  • Consultations to help churches and church committees

2. The Crisis Intervention System

  • Peacemaking & conflict resolution
  • Crisis management assistance

3. The Church Planting System

  • Churching the entire area which is considered to be the field of the association
  • Assisting in planting new churches in the area
  • A process for accepting new churches into the association, testing and affirming their doctrinal soundness (petitionary letters committee)

4. The Missions Support System

  • Sponsoring Mission trips in North America and Internationally (many smaller churches do not have the resources or, perhaps, the experience to do this)
  • Partnering to plant churches in new work areas

5. The Minister Support System

  • Pastor’s Conference
  • Counseling for ministers and their families

6. Shared Ministry System

Doing together what we cannot do apart, such as:

  • Benevolence ministries such as a clothes closet
  • Pregnancy center
  • Counseling center
  • Evangelistic emphases conducted together or with a shared strategy
  • A shared prayer strategy

7. Interim Support System

  • Training/orientations for search committees
  • Referral services

As I look this list over, it all sounds pretty New Testament to me.  The truth is we need each other and we play better as a team.

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