Associational leaders' involvement grows
BALTIMORE (BP) -- After a year of breaking in a new name and structure, the future looks bright for the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders, reports Johnny Rumbough, conference "team leader" and executive director of South Carolina's Lexington Baptist Association.
"It's a great day for associations," said Rumbough, who welcomed more than 150 associational directors of missions, executive directors and missionaries to SBCAL's annual meeting, June 6-8, ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Baltimore. Encouraged by the associational leaders' highest attendance in recent years, Rumbough said the meeting was characterized by a Holy Spirit-led atmosphere of cooperation and earnest desire to invest in Southern Baptist churches.
"There's more collaboration going on today than I've ever seen among DOMs and associations because we realize that we're in this together," Rumbough said, "when it comes to helping churches make disciples."
The DOMs organization formerly was known as the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions.
"For those who think our name is long now, well -- they don't remember the other one," Rumbough said with a smile. The change wasn't cosmetic but strategic, aimed at expanding the reach of those being equipped beyond DOMs, he noted. Internal structural changes were designed to broaden leadership within SBCAL, moving from a few top-tier posts to 20 leaders, including representation from SBC entities.
"We have great partners -- NAMB, IMB, WMU, LifeWay and GuideStone," Rumbough said. "And as we think about helping the churches get ready for the harvest, the collaboration we're experiencing is exactly what we need. … The table is now round, so everybody's at the table."
After working through some of the challenges of the transition, Rumbough said SBCAL is now poised for a banner year. Associational leaders were introduced to SBCAL's 2015 missions emphasis -- "Ready churches, ready harvest" -- which Rumbough hopes will give associational leaders some of the tools they need to make a significant impact on churches in their associations.
"Ed Stetzer told SBCAL that associations that have a future are associations that understand they need tools in their box to be able to help churches know what to do. And they're going to need to coach churches on how to use those tools," Rumbough said of Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and one of this year's featured speakers.
SBCAL began its meeting with a banquet June 6 followed by two days of breakout sessions covering a broad range of topics, from association funding and biblical conflict resolution to equipping disciple-makers. They also heard from leaders across the convention, including IMB President Tom Elliff, outgoing SBC President Fred Luter, GuideStone chief executive O.S. Hawkins and Blackaby Ministries' Rick Fisher.
Fisher spoke to associational leaders about the "love relationship" God desires with every believer.
"Our role as leaders of influence is to be a living display of what's on God's heart and what's on God's mind," Fisher said. "I believe the most significant and profound way that God wants to shape spiritual leaders is through the love relationship that we have with Him, and that relationship is best expressed as we pray."
Fisher also cautioned SBCAL members of the dangers of working outside that prayer-based love relationship.
"It occurs to me that there any many times in my life where I have sent myself out," he admitted, often with very limited success. "We live in a culture where it's much easier to do things for God than to spend time with God."
Hawkins briefed SBCAL on the health of GuideStone's various ministries and asked for their help with "Mission: Dignity," which provides financial assistance for retired Southern Baptist ministers and their spouses living at or near the poverty line.
"Associational leaders are key to identifying those who are in need," Hawkins said. "In last 16-plus years, we've been able to mail out over $100 million to these pastors and their widows. Not one dime came from any GuideStone funds. We don't get any Cooperative Program funds. Every bit of that money was raised from individuals and churches."
Hawkins asked associational leaders to promote GuideStone's upcoming Mission: Dignity Sunday, June 22.
"Not even the stamp that goes on the envelope that sends the check to those people is taken out of a gift that anyone gives," Hawkins said. "What a privilege it is to be Christ's hand extended to these precious, godly men and women."
Buoyed by the success of this year's conference, Rumbough said he's already making plans for the 2015 SBCAL in Columbus, Ohio. Based on feedback gleaned from participants, he wants more breakout sessions and more time for networking.
"These guys love talking to each other, they love learning from each other," he said. "I don't think I've ever had as many expressions of appreciation for the conference and for the leadership and all that's taken place -- a lot of affirmation."
Don Graham writes for the International Mission Board.