A hallmark of Baptist life is the cooperation among churches to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus. That cooperation is at its best in the model of churches working together in associations and state conventions. Of the approximately 1500 Southern Baptist churches in our state, most are affiliated with one of 42 associations in addition to their affiliation with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
Some associations are led by an associational missionary (AM) or associational missions strategist, while others are committee led. Either way, it is that sense of a shared mission that leads churches, associations and the ABSC to band together to fund missionaries and to take the message of salvation through Jesus alone to the unreached and underserved in Arkansas and around the world.
While the ABSC recognizes the autonomy of each association, the relationship is one of serving their leaders and participating churches.
This week, associational leaders representing 35 associations met with ABSC staff in Little Rock to further that spirit of cooperation. New associational leaders were given a summary of each team’s responsibilities and an opportunity to meet team members during a tour before the main session began. Dr. J.D. “Sonny” Tucker, Executive Director, welcomed the group on Monday afternoon as he expressed his appreciation for their work and shared updates from the teams of the ABSC.
On Monday evening convention staff and associational leaders enjoyed a time of fellowship during dinner and worship. ABSC Worship Consultant Jim Daniel was joined by his daughter, Magan and son, Jacob as he led the musical segment of worship.
Dr. Larry White, Convention President and Pastor of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Conway, who formerly served as an associational missionary encouraged those in attendance. “Do not negate the value of your voice to your churches and your pastors. Your words of affirmation and encouragement can be so crucial in the life of a minister,” White shared.
Bob Johnson, Associational Missionary Liaison at the ABSC, and leader of the workshop served as an associational missionary before coming to the ABSC.
“I was an AM in North Arkansas Baptist Association, based out of Harrison in Boone County, for about four and a half years. It was probably one of the largest geographical areas for associations in the state – we covered four counties up there,” Johnson said.
He said that experience helped prepare him to come to the Convention and help other Associational Missionaries.
Johnson states that he has two goals for this workshop/retreat that meet annually each February.
“Number one is connect them with ABSC personnel, connect them to our teams, to our people. What are we doing and what do we have going on right now. The second goal is to provide them with training and resources,” Johnson said. “What have I come across, what has our convention come across, maybe what is something one of the other guys has come across that would be a great tool for every association to have in their toolbox. So, we try to, I try to do a combination of that, working with the officers or whoever else and try and make sure that we have those kinds of connections.”
On day two of the workshop, the AM’s zoomed with Ray Gentry, President of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL). They looked at various demographics and mapping programs to help better examine what their associations look like, as they are ever changing, so they can know where church planting opportunities are as well as other ministry opportunities.
They continued connecting with the agencies and institutions in the building like having the Missions Team talk about the upcoming One Day: Serve Local event. Derek Brown, Executive Director of the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home and Family Ministries came and spoke with the attendees about pastoral care, counseling, foster care and adoption ministries.
AM of The Year
Tuesday ended with a dinner provided and sponsored by Ouachita Baptist University, who annually awards the Associational Missionary of the Year. This year’s recipient was Scott Miller of the Faulkner Baptist Association. Miller’s association covers Faulkner County and a small portion of southern Van Buren County.
“I was very surprised, shocked, and very honored,” Miller said. “I was a little embarrassed because I looked around in that room and there are a lot of guys who do a lot of good work, a lot of hard work, and so a little embarrassed that I got an award that they haven’t yet. But very surprised and honored to get that.”
Before becoming the AM, he had been pastoring most of his life. He had been serving at Lonoke Baptist Church in Lonoke at the time of his transition to AM.
“I’d been pastoring my whole life. I pastored for 33-years. I guess I always assumed I’d always be a pastor, but I did have the thought throughout my ministry, different times people would tell me, ‘You’d be a good director of missions’ and whatnot,” he said. “But when the position came open where I am now, Larry White was the guy who was there, who’s now the current president of the convention. I was contacted by somebody asking if they could turn my name in and lo and behold, that’s what happened. Larry, who is still in my association, has been a huge help for me. He’s been an incredible asset.”
While Faulkner Association might have the smallest geographical location, they do a lot in the ways of serving their churches and their communities. Every Monday morning, they cook breakfast at the association office for their pastors who arrive around 8 a.m. to chat and share prayer requests or things going on at their churches.
“It’s an opportunity to fellowship and for me to get to talk to the guys in a casual situation and gauge where they are with themselves and their church,” Miller said.
They also have an associational camp. They hold four camps in the summer and one in the winter for their churches. The rest of the year, the camp is available to be leased out to other associations that might want to use it for different purposes.
“We do trainings and do things when the state does them like Serve Local coming up. We also do our own thing called “FBAGO” — Faulkner Baptist Association Go,” he said. “It’s kind our own One Day thing and we just encourage our churches to do something ministry related that day.”
Associational Missionaries wear a lot of hats, but their main goal and purpose, with the help of the ABSC, is to assist affiliated churches as they further the Kingdom of God.