Rowing in the Right Direction

My wife and I were privileged to attend the annual meeting of our local Baptist association this last Sunday evening, along with our pastor and his wife and another brother from our church. The Tulsa Metro Association of Baptist Churches has done what few, if any Southern Baptist associations around the nation have even thought of doing, much less actually undertaken: we have begun to cease functioning like a “church at large,” doing what the local church is suppose to do.

Typically, most associations administer city-wide ministries such as homeless and battered shelters, food and clothes pantries, and campus ministries, with the member churches sending money to the association so that the association can administer and fund the projects. That is no longer the way things are handled in the Tulsa Metro association. The stewardship of community ministry has been handed back to the churches where it belongs. Consequently, our association now has need for only two full-time paid staffers and two secretaries. The ministries around town were picked up by various churches who now administer them directly, eliminating administrative overhead, while at the same time generating interest among the members of their congregation so that they might be directly involved in real ministry. The association is in the process of selling its building, and when that happens it will operate out of a church somewhere here in Tulsa.

Under the leadership of Director of Missions, Charles Cruce, and Associate Director Bill Rains, this new associational model just focuses on four areas of involvement, all aimed at assisting the local church:

  • Church planting
  • Church staff support
  • Leadership training
  • Church strengthening

These four vital areas put the association back in the role of assisting the local churches, thus better equipping the local churches to do what God has called them to do. Pastors interested in these four areas have formed committees or “teams” that oversee the various programs, dispersing funds from a budgeted amount just for that area of involvement.

Now pastoring here in Tulsa, and actively involved in one of the “teams” of this new associational model, Art Rogers describes Tulsa Metro Association of Baptist Churches as “…perhaps the most forward thinking Association in the nation.” He wrote of our local association in greater length last year, and has already written a number (1, 2, 3, 4) of related posts from this years annual meeting. It is because of this forward thinking that we are receiving quite a bit of national attention from the SBC. Maybe that is why we were honored to have SBC president, Frank Page address the Tulsa Metro association this year.

Change is not without its minor setbacks and growing pains. Tulsa Metro association has generated a bit of friction with our state convention. You see, one ministry doesn’t quite fit this new model very well, and that is the Baptist Student Unions. These ministries are a bit of a hybrid, operating on the local, associational level, yet BSU directors are staffed and funded at the state convention level, at least that is how it is here in Oklahoma. What creates the crunch for the new model is that BSU directors are expressly forbidden by the state convention to solicit churches directly for operational funds. Why that is, I’m not sure, and how this difficulty is to be resolved remains to be seen. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Well, that is the positive side, as I see it, of local SBC life. In the next day or so I intend to submit a companion post, pointing to the symptoms of an over-arching problem endemic to much of the SBC, a problem for which the best of associational models cannot ever compensate.

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