With approximately 1,100 local associations working to assist their member churches in cooperative gospel work, October 17-24 is recognized as the Week of Prayer for Baptist Associations in the Southern Baptist Convention. Having served as an associational leader since 2013, I’m grateful for the many prayers for associational work that will be offered up to the Lord throughout this week. If you are considering how to pray for your local Baptist association this week, allow me to offer five suggestions:
#1: Pray for Associational Leadership
Most associations employ an associational leader. He might go by the title of Associational Mission Strategist, Director of Missions, or Associational Missionary. Regardless of his title, he is responsible for coordinating the cooperative efforts of his member churches to reach their communities for Christ. In most associations, this person is the only minister on staff. In many associations, he serves in a bi-vocational or part-time role due to modest associational funds.
The associational leader wears many hats. He is a missions strategist. He is a pastor to pastors. He is a consultant for churches without pastors. He is a mediator for churches in conflict. He is a church planting catalyst. He is a denominational resource. He regularly fills in to preach. He helps churches respond to crises such as global pandemics or the sudden death of a pastor. He is all of this and more. In fact, the SBCAL Study Team produced a report a few years ago which recommended 17 different proficiencies for associational leaders.
Therefore, your associational leader(s) will certainly appreciate and welcome your prayers this week. Pray that he will effectively manage all his responsibilities in a way that honors the Lord and benefits the churches within the association. Pray that he will surround himself with others in the association to assist him in carrying out his duties. Pray that the Lord would give him a strong sense of calling to associational work. Pray that he would develop strong relationships with pastors and other leaders. Finally, pray that he would regularly see God’s hand at work in his life and ministry.
#2: Pray for a Spirit of Cooperation
An association rises or falls on the willingness of its churches to work together toward a common goal. The foundational belief of associational work of any kind is that we can accomplish more when we work together than we can do on our own. Therefore, if there’s no cooperation among the churches, there is no association.
Sadly, the willingness to cooperate is waning in several areas within the Southern Baptist Convention. Earlier this year, Albert Mohler said, “Trust is the currency of cooperation.” I couldn’t agree more. Because trust is eroding quickly within the SBC, our cooperative efforts are also threatened. This is true at the national level but also has ripple effects at the local level.
Therefore, pray that the pastors and churches in your association will continue to see the value of partnering together to reach your communities for Christ. Pray that the churches will understand that they are not competing with their sister churches but are cooperating together in the Great Commission. Pray that new pastors who move into the association will see the value of continued partnership with other churches. Indeed, we are better together!
#3: Pray for a Clear Strategy
When asked during a 2017 survey what most frustrated them about their local association, the most popular answer among pastors and church leaders was a lack of a clear associational vision or strategy. Many church leaders felt that their association simply existed, but it did not seem to have a clear purpose. Many associations did not set any goals. Many lacked any evidence of a strategic approach to associational ministry. For that reason, many churches disengaged from their association.
However, associations that have developed a clear strategy have experienced a resurgence in recent years. Cooperation and funding have been on the rise. There has been a boost of excitement for local partnerships. Churches have been eager to celebrate what they have accomplished together with other churches. Pastors and church leaders understand their association’s purpose, and they are quick to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Therefore, if your local association does not appear to have a clear strategy or purpose, pray that associational leaders will begin to develop one. Pray and ask the Lord how you can help. If your association does have a strategy, pray that associational leaders will continually evaluate and improve the strategy as circumstances change. Pray that leaders clearly cast and communicate the strategic vision for your association and for churches to engage in efforts enthusiastically to accomplish that vision.
#4: Pray for Sufficient Funding
Since 1925, the Cooperative Program has been the funding mechanism of the missions and ministry efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention. Through the Cooperative Program, your church supports missionaries in North America and around the globe. You financially support six seminaries across the country so that the next generation of pastors and missionaries can receive the proper training. You support entities such as the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which are constantly contending for religious freedom in America. You also support many ministry efforts led by your state convention. The Cooperative Program is a fantastic way to fund the Great Commission, and I’m so thankful for it!
However, many SBC church members don’t realize that their local Baptist association is not funded through the Cooperative Program. While some state conventions offer grants to associations in their state, most associations are funded solely by the financial contributions of their member churches. Therefore, most associations have modest budgets. Many are unable to support a full-time associational leader. Many have limited funds to accomplish their mission. Even in larger metropolitan associations, budgets are often tight.
Therefore, pray that your association will receive sufficient funds to accomplish its mission. Pray that your associational leaders will develop a realistic budget and be wise stewards of the funds they receive. Pray and ask the Lord if your church should consider increasing its support for the cooperative work taking place at the associational level. While your association undoubtedly knows how to do more with less, pray that they will also learn how to do more with more!
#5: Pray for Kingdom Impact
The goal of your local association should ultimately be to make a significant kingdom impact at both the local and global levels for the glory of God. You will likely never know this side of heaven all the ways that God uses the cooperative efforts of the churches in your association. However, there are some ways that you can see God’s hand at work right now.
Therefore, pray that many souls will be saved through the cooperative work of your association. Pray that many mission teams will be sent out from the association. Pray that many new churches will be planted. Pray that established churches will be revitalized. Pray that pastors will be encouraged. Pray that God will be glorified through it all.
Thank You for Praying
Your local Baptist association can be a valuable partner in advancing the Great Commission. As an associational leader, allow me to say thank you for praying this week for your Baptist association!