ArticlesThe Future of the SBC Begins With Our Local Associations

The Future of the SBC Begins With Our Local Associations

By Zac Harrel, DOM of the Heart of Texas Baptist Network 


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at Zac’s Substack that you can find here 


No matter what happens this week at the Southern Baptist Convention I believe the local association is positioned to be central to the future of cooperation among Baptist churches. Whichever way this week plays out there will be some who are angry, some who are happy, and some who are just sick of the controversy. As the pieces fall and the process of putting them back together commences the local association is the place where this can happen most effectively.

We always talk about the SBC being a relational, cooperative fellowship, but that can’t happen at one national gathering a year. This relational bond is built at the local level, at the associational level, before it is built in a state convention or national entity. The future of the SBC begins at the local association.

I believe this because I have seen this truth the last four years serving as a leader of a local Baptist association.

For this potential to be reached we must first understand what the local association does. We must understand its purpose and vision. The local association exists to connect. We connect churches to one another, to resources in order to better equip them for their calling, and to the wider work of God’s Kingdom in their community and the world.

Relational Connection

True cooperation happens only through trusting relationships. For pastors, leaders, and churches to truly know and trust one another and have a vision to work together for to further God’s Kingdom they must have the opportunity to grow in these life giving and Kingdom loving connections. The local association is in the best position to help foster these kinds of community changing partnerships. The association is the tangible place where pastors and other leaders can find community. It is the best place to connect churches together for the work of ministry. It is the best tool we have in Baptist life to help find unity around the Gospel. In a season of division within our convention the association can play a vital role in bringing us together. There will never be full agreement on every issue. In a world with differing opinions it will not be easy, but the local association is the best place to pursue solidarity because the local association is the place we physically connect. It is easy to fight with someone across a keyboard. It is easy to dismiss that church across the country. But, when we know the church and the pastor and the people personally it is easier to find the common ground needed to work together. Associations must take this relational work seriously.

Connection to Resources

As the world continues to change around us we need churches and leaders who are equipped to be faithful witnesses. The local association is in a great position to be the place this happens most effectively. Every context is different. The size, place, and culture of each church matters and the local association can speak into the culture and context of their churches better than a national or state convention. Our job is to equip, as best we can, our churches and their leaders for faithful Gospel ministry. Once again, this happens best in trusting relationships. Our national and state level programs and conferences are helpful, but they cannot speak to our local context as well as the association can. The association must be ready, willing, and able to be a resource for our churches and train and equip them for ministry in our context in this rapidly changing world.

Connection to the Wider Work of God

Local associations should seek to foster community, equip leaders for effective ministry, and to give opportunity for churches to partner together for ministry. This begins in our local context and the needs of our communities, but it also spreads to the wider world. Every church has a part to play in the mission of God in the world, but many feel like they can’t play their part because of size or lack of resources. As associational leaders we must help connect our churches to one another so that they may all take their calling seriously and have the opportunity to play a part in God advancing His Kingdom. We must seek out partnerships and relationships to help our churches be faithful to the Great Commission and obedient to the Great Commandment. We must still support and fight for the IMB, NAMB, and the mission work of our state conventions, but we must not be content with those being our only connections to God’s work in the world. Our local associations must be the beginning point for our churches to work together in order to be faithful to the mission entrusted to us.

I don’t claim to know the future of the SBC, nor am I particularly confident we can find the common ground necessary for unity going forward nationally, but I am optimistic about the future of cooperation among Baptists because I believe the local association has a central role to play in the days ahead. Instead of focusing on the dysfunction, may we seek to connect with those we know and love locally for the unity of the church and the advancement of God’s Kingdom in our communities and to the ends of the earth.



*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common

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