JACKSON, Tenn. – Feb. 22, 2007 – Southern Baptist associations and state conventions must face the “predicaments of the present” in order to be viable forces in the denomination, says a Tennessee Baptist director of missions.
Since the first Baptist association was established in 1707 in Philadelphia, the association has continued to evolve, said Mike Day, director of missions for Mid-South Baptist Association, based in Memphis.
After state conventions came into being and the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845, the roles of the entities have become intertwined, Day observed during a session on “The Future of Baptist Associations and State Conventions” at the Baptist Identity Conference held Feb. 15-17 at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
Baptist associations began to face an identity crisis after state conventions and the SBC came on the scene, Day noted. That crisis heightened after the Cooperative Program was established in 1925 and state conventions were given the assignment of collecting and dispersing those funds three years later, Day continued.
Now, as the SBC continues to grow and change, both state conventions and associations are “wrestling with the dilemma of creating a denominational brand in a post-denominational world,” Day related.
“Both state conventions and Baptist associations are seeking to be relevant,” he said.
Day observed that much of what occurs in Southern Baptist life related to its various levels (national convention, state conventions, associations) is confusing to members of local churches.
As a result, Southern Baptist associations and state conventions are dealing with the “predicaments of the present,” Day told participants at the Union conference.
Those predicaments include:
He noted that the problem with this “predicament” is that the “church winds up at the bottom of the pile. In Scripture, the church is on top of the pile.”
“Realistic Southern Baptists can look at their associations and state conventions and see that these predicaments exist,” Day said.
He noted the options Southern Baptists have in dealing with the predicaments are to either start a new association or state convention or to establish a new paradigm for associations.
Day listed several elements of a new paradigm.
“If this paradigm plays out to its fullest, the association and state convention as we know it will cease to exist,” Day predicted.
He emphasized there are concerns in the Southern Baptist Convention structure that must be addressed. “It is time for us to apply appropriate pressure and stop the bleeding,” Day said. “It is time to eliminate the things that are not contributing to the kingdom of God.”
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector