My Thoughts Following the Kershaw Baptist Association’s Fall Meeting

I attended my first bi-annual meeting of the Kershaw Baptist Association yesterday. The KBA includes 51 baptist churches in Kershaw County, South Carolina, that partner together for missions locally and globally. I love it when churches work together as I’m a firm believer that we can go farther and make a greater impact when we are unified than when we try to do things alone.

The Good:

  • Our Missions Committee presented an update on the partnership that we currently have in Peru, helping to reach unreached Urarina tribes along the Rio Tigrillo, a branch of the Amazon. We sent teams from several churches during the month of September who saw around 170 come to faith in Christ, including from one village that previously had no Christians. There is another trip planned into this same area in January. This is an amazing example of doing something together that we could not do alone. It also shows the strength of churches adopting a people group and investing together over a period of time. This, by far, is what excites me most about being part of the Kershaw Baptist Association.

The transition:

  • Just a few weeks before our meeting our Director of Missions, Jimmy Hanf announced his resignation. Jimmy shared that he is transitioning to a ministry role that will allow him to travel to Peru more frequently and engage more churches in international missions. This is really his heartbeat when you talk with Jimmy. As he transitions January 1st into this new role, my prayer is that God will allow him to make an even greater impact.
  • This transition also means that as an association we will be transitioning to a time without a called leader. Hopefully at some point the Missions Committee will recommend the hiring of an interim Director of Missions. My hope is that they will be able to find someone who can come in and help us come together as an association and specifically refine our purpose.

The Not So Good:

  • Baptists in general can get divisive when it comes to budgets. My e-mail has been filling up leading up to this meeting with words of impending financial cuts coming to the association’s 2013 budget. The budget that was presented and approved included cuts to payroll for the first time. Thankfully, the meeting did not turn ugly, but it did get a little bit tense. The association overwhelmingly approved a budget that more closely followed the funding from the churches.
  • In some ways the local Baptist association is losing ground. While impending conflict usually means more Baptists show up for these meetings, there were few in attendance. According to the giving report, for 2012 there were churches that did not financially support the association. I could have counted on one hand the number of people in the room under 65. Added all together, I believe that unless something changes, the budget cuts and dwindling support and participation are the future of associational life.

The Way Forward

  • Baptists have formed associations for centuries. As time marches onward our associations are facing financial realities which are going to force them to redefine their vision and purpose. Just as the state convention is restructuring, the association will follow. Here in SC our state convention is going to move to a 4 day work-week beginning January 1st. At the same time that we are downsizing the denominational structures we should be maximizing and upsizing our commitment to reaching the darkness with the gospel.
  • I’m currently serving on the Constitution and Bylaws Committee for the association. While we are going through a process of modernizing our organizational document I’m reminded that fixing this document is not going to fix the problems with our association. My experience has been that when we trust each other, no one really cares about the constitution. It sits on a dusty shelf somewhere. Whenever trust breaks apart, when unity turns to strife, when we beat our plowshares back into swords, the constitution is one of those things that is dug up and sharpened for battle. My prayer is that over the next year we can work toward restoring our trust and focusing on that which binds us together – the Lord, who has called us on mission.

It would be a lot easier if we operated in an episcopal form of church government where decisions were made from the top-down. As a free-church tradition, we have the freedom to make the decisions for ourselves how best to do ministry. The struggle with our form of government is that means it is sometimes messy. I’m happy having to strap on my boots and gloves sometimes and wade through the mess, because in the end it is worth it. The question we must ask ourselves, is “is this a hill on which to die?” There is really only one hill worth dying on and that is for the One who gave His life for mine.