A Modest Proposal for Baptist Associations
by Aaron Menikoff
My proposal may shock and even upset some. I offer it humbly, recognizing I don’t have all the answers, and that every association is different. Nonetheless, I offer this proposal to launch a conversation about how Southern Baptist churches can improve local cooperation.
Simply put, I propose pastors reclaim an interest in associations by providing volunteer leadership to free up associational funds to equip pastors, plant churches, and revitalize existing congregations.
Imagine a Baptist association with no paid workers. All the leadership comes from pastors, staff, and members of the local churches. What could an association like this do?
- It could host a monthly pastors fellowship in different churches throughout the city. For two hours each month, pastors and staff could share a meal, discuss ministry, bear burdens, and encourage each other to follow Christ more closely.
- It could host a yearly retreat where pastors and staff dig even deeper into one another’s lives, grow to trust each other, and pray for the future of their families and churches.
- It could transform its annual meeting into a dinner with pastors and wives where business is done, new churches are introduced, and families get to know each other.
- It could grant thousands of dollars to help church planting and revitalization in its city.
This isn’t an imaginary association; it’s the one I’m a part of: The Greater Atlanta Baptist Network (formerly the Atlanta Association of Southern Baptist Churches). It operates without paid staff. We have a team of volunteers who meet regularly to provide leadership and direction to our association. Our member churches are heavily invested in the work, and over the years we have seen this fellowship foster deep friendships.
As I write these words, I’m at the SBC annual meeting in Dallas, Texas. I appreciate the national efforts of this denomination and especially our cooperative efforts to see the gospel reach the unreached. I attend the Georgia Baptist Convention annual meeting each year and am thankful for state-wide work.
However, are we so focused on what happens at the state and national levels that we neglect the nitty-gritty work of knowing and encouraging local churches in our own neighborhood? Have we neglected our sister churches even though it is the local churches who raise up the people to go and the dollars to finance the Great Commission?
To put it bluntly, many church pastors have lost an interest in local, Baptist associational life. We are enamored of the state and national work while we ignore the unglamorous work of serving churches who minister in our own backyard.
Why does this matter? Because our denominational life is like a tree. The national entities are the branches spreading across the globe. The state conventions are the trunk, holding the branches in place. But the local associations are the roots. It’s at the associational level that every pastor can be involved. Like a church member who leaves it to the paid staff to do the ministry, I wonder if some pastors have left it to paid staff to do the work of the association.
I’m not asking for the removal or resignation of every Director of Missions! I’m grateful for the faithful work of so many who are laboring to encourage churches in my state, from Moultrie to Marietta. I’m not suggesting every association should look like the Greater Atlanta Baptist Network. Please hear me, I know that manyBaptist associations are vibrant, staff-led, and growing. I’m thankful for that. However, many are not. Furthermore, too many pastors are neglecting their local associations.
I plead with pastors to re-engage in associational life, and I’m not sure this will happen without a change in how some associations typically operate.
Aaron Menikoff is the Senior Pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, GA. Aaron completed his Masters of Divinity in Biblical and Theological Studies and his Ph.D. in American Church History from Southern Seminary. He serves on the administrative team of the Greater Atlanta Baptist Network where he leads a monthly pastors fellowship. He is also a regular contributor to The Gospel Coalition and 9Marks. Follow him on Twitter at @Aaron_Menikoff