Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Rev. Dr. Demetrius A. Russell, Sr.
For many Kentucky Missionary Baptist, the last week of July is met with high anticipation. The General Association of Baptist in Kentucky holds its annual session in either Bowling Green, Lexington or Louisville KY. One of the focal points of dialogue during and after our time of fellowship has been whether conventions/associations are still relevant and necessary. In an era where many churches have become independent bodies, many
denominational group conventions etc. are struggling to survive. Their purpose has moved from assisting churches to be more effective in ministry to we need your money, or we will be the newest addition to a list of defunct groups.
In attempts to receive money from various churches, many local congregations have concluded that they are wasting their time and resources giving money to a body that will not do anything for them in their time of need. The issue could possibly be that many of our churches are struggling financially due to poor attendance, parishioner’s employment disparities and certain individuals desiring to save money.
SO... are conventions necessary? From dialogue, many utilize these meetings to gain preaching opportunities, meet up with fellow pastors to reconnect and real talk, to get away for a moment of refreshment and to be preached to. Through all that has been listed, the question that remains is, “what impact is it having on our churches?” Many pastors are considering dropping the affiliation and becoming independent, hoping to save money and allotting those resources to preaching conferences etc. They feel that conventions and associations are not making a difference in their churches. They believe that the joint body should be utilized to assist their local church in some way. Though I do contend that these organizations must offer something to assist churches in being more effective in ministry, it is important to remember why many organizations and denominational groups began.
Many groups, during the late 19th Century, were comprised of local pastors who came together with a goal in mind. After about two centuries dealing with mental and physical slavery, they developed objectives that would help position their people to advance in all facets of life. While focus was placed on advancements in education and employment, other matters arose that took the collective church’s minds from spiritual growth. While the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) appears to thrive in ministry efforts such as outreach, evangelism and mission work, NBC (all of them lol), PNBC and other predominantly African American organizations during Jim Crow, had to focus their attentions on receiving rights as a people. What got us through as a people was the songs/hymns of the church, narrative, liberation preaching that closed with whooping birthed from the African Tradition and banding together. After laws changed, it almost seemed as if people were left standing and saying, “what do we do now?” We continued to focus on church service, raising money to survive and when younger pastors look around, they are left saying, why are these other organizations pouring into their churches and ours is depleting us of our resources?
Perhaps this view would change if local churches engaged in using the objectives we are asked to support. For example, the General Association of Baptist in Kentucky for years was responsible for keeping a crumbling and almost defunct institution, Simmons Bible College together. Around 15 years ago, Dr. Kevin W. Cosby became president and this school is now accredited, has athletic programs, a band/music program, has repurchased land lost, is a HBCU and changed its name to Simmons College of Kentucky. They are adding programs and working to make the school a strong institution of higher education. We give to Simmons every year during the Pastor’s Conference and the Annual Association. Some give monthly or yearly. The point I’m making is that giving to this effort can be beneficial to local churches especially when we SEND our youth to this institution. Not just our youth but even our adults that have not commenced or finished their studies. When we send our members to Simmons, this institution as well as our local communities will reap benefits. Simmons will receive students and if our members return, they are able to provide the knowledge and resources to help make our churches and communities better.
Another issue that surfaces is whether auxiliaries that deal with mission, outreach and evangelism are making any impact. Have people become so concerned about positions and politics that they have forgotten about ministry? Individuals that can make impact are expected to get on board by showing interest in working their way up by serving as historian, treasurer, secretary, Vice President etc. until reaching the status of president or moderator. By the time many reach president or moderator, they have lost the passion for ministry because they’ve focused on politics. They are more interested in drawing people to have church than to teach people how to point the unsaved and unchurched to Jesus. While people are refusing to give up positions because they’ve waited years to be president, they are sacrificing effectiveness in ministry. It would be easy to encourage people that care about ministry to get involved, however, they either won’t get a chance or will be treated poorly because they don’t want to “just have church.”
To keep this from becoming too long, I conclude that conventions and associations can be
of value and are necessary if we remember why they were established. To maintain its relevance, politics must be replaced with ministry. Yes, even if it means people not receiving positions because they are NEXT... Yes, they can be necessary because fellow pastors and parishioners alike need to connect with others for encouragement to continue in ministry. When we commit to remembering the intent of each group’s origins, support will decline and churches will continue to struggle.