Another article on state conventions

David Kreuger is a Missouri pastor at First Baptist Church of Linn. David previously authored an article speaking about the same subject of reconsidering the state convention that I was dealing with last week. David forwarded his article to me and granted permission to reproduce the article for your consideration. I have copied it below verbatim. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

Is a new paradigm shift needed in Baptist life?

Establishing new models or patterns of ministry are never easy. In Baptist life, things do not change quickly. Whether it be the local church, an association or the state or national conventions, Southern Baptists are not known for their swiftness in expediting change. Change does of course take place, but our basic credo seems to be, If it aint broke, dont fix it. The problem is that if it is broke, it takes several committees and a business meeting or two to rectify the problem. Im not being critical. Im merely pointing out what most of us are aware of already. The reason that change takes time in Baptist life is not because we are slothful and unconcerned, but because of our polity. It is congregational which means involving as many members as possible in the decision-making process. It can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating for A-type personalities but its the Baptist way, and I am glad for it.

So, when I say its time for a paradigm shift in Baptist life, I am under no illusions that the shift I am advocating will not take place in my lifetime. It is simply to huge a shift.

I contend that it is time that Southern Baptists to do away with an entire level of denominational bureaucracy. I submit that the level we ought to jettison is the state convention. At least as a ministering, functioning, operating entity.

I know this will not endear me to my friends I have working at the Baptist Building in my state. They are hard-working men and women who feel called of God to do what they do. They serve faithfully and loyally and I commend them. In the age of the Internet, electronic messaging, and other high-speed communications, however, its a level of denominational life we may well be able to do without.

The paradigm shift I contend for is the super or mega association. The idea is not new. In fact its a return to the way our Baptist forefathers in America initially organized. For example, in 1791, North Carolina Baptists were organized primarily into three large associations the Kehukee, Sandy Creek, and Yadkin. Our state convention is currently divided into eight areas from which trustee representation is drawn for the Executive Board, agencies and institutions. These eight areas could each serve as a mega-association.

In his book A Baptist Association: Churches on Mission Together, J.C. Bradley provides a basic definition of an association. It is, To enable churches to be in fellowship and to be on mission individually and together. Everything being done on a state level could be done on the associational level, and in many cases could probably be done more effectively. Let me share some of my reasons for such a paradigm shift.

The state convention cannot be all things to all churches. State conventions, like churches, must prioritize ministries. There is simply not enough personnel, nor is there the financial resources to adequately meet the variety of needs represented by thousands of local churches. No one is better equipped to minister to the needs of its member congregations than the local association. The needs of congregations in or near metropolitan areas are often far different than those of congregations in predominately rural counties. Mega-associations would be able to specifically target the needs of member churches better than the state convention can.

Eliminating an entire level of denominational bureaucracy would free vast sums of money to be used by the mega-association for evangelism, missions, and ministry.

Mega-associations would be able to call multiple, full-time staffers to administer programs that could be specifically tailored for each association. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach that a state convention must frequently take, mega-association staff could target specific ministries such as migrant workers or ethnic ministries -- that might exist in their association, but might not have a similar priority in another association.

Associational camps could become regional conference centers. Camps, often run on a shoestring budget could be greatly improved and enhanced by the pooled resources of the mega-association.

Baptist Colleges and Baptist Student Ministries could potentially see increased support. Mega-associations where such institutions exist may well decide to make such institutions a major ministry emphasis. Other mega-associations would undoubtedly still contribute.

As long as the mega-association missions center was centrally located, pastors and churches would have access to personnel and resources comparable to what is currently found only at the state offices or in metro-associations.

In his book A Baptist Association: Churches on Mission Together, J.C. Bradley lists ten tasks that the association should accomplish. They are:

1. Nurture harmony in faith and practice.

2. Nurture fellowship among church, church leaders, and members.

3. Call the churches to be on mission.

4. Provide resources and services to churches and leaders.

5. Train, develop, and encourage church and associational workers.

6. Provide opportunities for working together in missions, ministry, growth, and evangelism.

7. Establish and maintain appropriate communication and relationships with the community and the denomination.

8. Govern the association under the lordship of Christ.

9. Plan the associations program and manage its resources

10. Provide information about the churches to the denomination.

I see every one of these tasks being accomplished ten-fold, with such a paradigm shift.