As the Union is streamlined more
responsibility moves to the Associations. However, the resources the
Associations have to deliver this are also constrained most currently run
deficits. So how can they respond to the challenge? How might we manage
Association life in the future?
Mind the gap. Sometimes there appears to be a gap between
the Association and the churches / ministers in it; people don’t feel part of
it. But associations are not ‘things’ to which one belongs, they are the
relationships themselves so we need to grow ways of networking which people
own and feel part of. Association structures and staffing should be the means
of helping networks of churches work together; responsive to them and inclusive
of them. An approach that is grass roots upwards not top down. One reason I’m wary
of Association annual themes and plans is they are nearly always top down.
Encourage care. One of the current challenges is the
pastoral care of ministers and churches. And as long as we look to Association
staff to provide this, it will remain so. Effective care needs to be on a peer
to peer level, rather than through representative persons. Where Association
structures have a role it is in providing ways of facilitating this; ensuring
ministers groups thrive, developing Ministers’ conferences and other one day events.
Of course, Regional Ministers should be pastoral and care, but they are going
to struggle if we expect them to be hands-on for anything other than a major
crisis or a few key people.
Connect churches: churches need care just as ministers do. Even if it is simply someone to turn to for advice (or to point in the right
direction). However, churches also benefit from people who assist them to
navigate conflict, who encourage congregational health and discern where their
future lies. The Associations who do well in the future will be those who
facilitate these things, putting churches in touch with others who can help
them rather than providing this through a regional team. (Especially since smaller churches often need more help and the number of these churches is growing). The key to this? Relating
to and working with church leadership teams not just ministers.
Strategic mission: Associations can play a significant role
by identifying strategic opportunities and then supporting people and churches
who respond. Associations don’t have the resources to do much by themselves,
but they are in a unique position to help create partnerships and nurture
initiatives. (See, for example, this week's discussion on incarnate network ).
Value diversity: Baptists are a diverse lot and many are
part of other streams and networks in addition to BUGB / Association ones. (see
my blog about types of Baptists) Successful Associations will be those who value
this rather than see it as a weakness, draw togetherness from this rather than
creating a them / us and make sure all shades of regional Baptist life feel
wanted and welcome. [The difference between an Association that seeks to speak for its
churches and one tries to ensure the churches voices are heard?]
The good news is most Associations try to do these things
(at least I don’t know of any who aren’t!) Their challenge is not to get bogged
down but to be focused, to forget about anything that doesn’t contribute to one
of these areas and be intentional about ensuring that time, resources and