I am a huge fan of the local association. Not only did I have the privilege of serving for 10 years as an associational leader, but I am also blessed to serve alongside a group of amazing association leaders here in Colorado. However, not everyone understands the value of the local association nor the incredible benefit a partnership with the local association brings. So, I’d like to share what is transpiring right here in Colorado because of our intentional partnership with our associations.
To get a better grasp on the value of these partnerships I need to set the stage by offering a very general history. Many years ago, state conventions were viewed as “the experts” when it came to denominational life for their state. They structured themselves to respond to the needs of churches by hiring specialists in areas such as Pastoral Care, Church Health, Church Finance, Evangelism, Worship, etc. As requests for help came from the churches, these specialists (or those on their team) would travel to the church, meet with the pastor and leaders, and provide resources or recommendations they had. This was the typical structure and practice of many state conventions.
However, several challenges surfaced with this approach. First off, this structure required each specialist to respond to every convention church which had a need in his area of expertise. If the convention had 400 churches, this specialist would be responsible for serving all 400 churches in that specific area of ministry. Secondly, almost all the specialists operated out of the convention’s central office. This meant they would be seeking to help churches in contexts or areas in which they did not live. Plus, they would have to travel to remote areas, covering long distances from the central office in order to serve the church. And thirdly, and mostly because of the distance, relationships with pastors and leaders were not as strong in all of the state’s churches.
Today more and more state conventions are learning the value of partnering with local associational leadership because those are the people closest to their churches
Today more and more state conventions are learning the value of partnering with local associational leadership because those are the people closest to their churches. And why wouldn’t conventions want to partner like this? Rather than duplicating efforts or working around associational leaders, the Colorado Baptist General Convention has gone all in with associational partnerships.
To help you understand why these partnerships are so crucial I have listed 4 values which are added to our convention’s strategy because we partner with our association’s leaders:
Our associational leaders actually know the needs and are best equipped to respond to those needs.
Associational Leaders Understand Their Ministry Context Best
Colorado is such a vast state with so many unique sub-cultures, it is impossible for one person to serve them all. In Colorado, all of our associational leaders are from the region in which they serve. Not only that, each associational leader has ministered in his specific area for several years. They have built trust, they are known, and they understand the unique nuances of their ministry fields. This gives them a distinct advantage when it comes to serving the churches in their various areas.
I have come to realize that trying to create strategies for churches in areas I don’t live is like looking out the window of my office and trying to assess what the neighborhood around me needs. Without actually being on the field and knowing the specifics of the area my conclusions are really just guesses. But our associational leaders actually know the needs and are best equipped to respond to those needs.
Before a strong partnership with our local associations existed, there was a time when many of our associational churches were left to fend for themselves.
Associational Partnerships Allow Us to Divide and Conquer
Rather than having staff from a central office driving all across the state, partnering with associational leaders allows us to impact churches in greater ways. Again, because our associational leaders are living in their ministry fields, help and support comes to our churches so much faster.
Before a strong partnership with our local associations existed, there was a time when many of our associational churches were left to fend for themselves. For the past 10 years most of our Colorado associations struggled because there was no vocational leadership tasked specifically with caring for these churches.
Because of this there were churches who experienced crisis situations, and no one knew about it until almost a year later. By that time the church had splintered or closed down completely. However, now all but one of our local associations have a full-time associational leader who supports, encourages, and loves on the pastors and churches in his area.
Just a few weeks ago I was meeting with four pastors from one of our remote associations. They shared with me how their associational leader (who has been in the role for just over a year) has had an inordinate number of churches in crisis in their association. Pastors who have left, congregations in conflict, and other issues which have threatened the ability of these churches to impact their communities with the Gospel. However, the collective testimony from all four of these pastors was, “Had our associational leader not been here, those churches would have been on their own.”
Because of our partnership with our associations, we have structured our leadership team as a gathering of peers; equals in a room with the sole desire to serve our churches better.
Associational Leaders Bring an Indispensable Perspective to Our Leadership Team
In Colorado each one of our associational leaders serves on our convention’s leadership team. Our leadership team is the body which is tasked with operational and strategic decisions for the convention. Because of our partnership with our associations, we have structured our leadership team as a gathering of peers; equals in a room with the sole desire to serve our churches better. No one has a trump card to play. If we are not in agreement, we simply keep praying for the Lord’s direction.
Each of the members of our leadership team has a different perspective, which is invaluable for our convention. Because the associational leaders are part of this team, we are able to create strategy for the field that is informed by the field! This is a huge win for our convention. It assures that our direction and focus as a convention remains relevant and adds value to our churches.
Our partnership allows us to demonstrate to our churches that we are one team, working for one cause.
Our Associational Partnership Allows us to Present a United Front to Our Churches
Let’s face it, pastors and church leaders are confused when associations and the state convention are not in lock step together. Our partnership allows us to demonstrate to our churches that we are one team, working for one cause. We are still autonomous entities, but we refuse to compete with one another. Both entities have lanes in which they run. However, defining those lanes clearly has allowed our efforts to be complementary and not competitive. This allows us to live out the old adage, “We can accomplish more when no one cares who gets the credit.” We are all in this together!
The vision for this partnership with associations was really birthed out of my own experiences. We have been able to create the kind of partnership I wish I had with the state convention when I was an associational leader. It is true that we can do so much more together than we can apart. And I am grateful to the Lord that we are seeing this realized here in Colorado!