Why you should be involved in your local association

Cooperation means we are better together

October 25, 2022

A little over a year ago, I plucked my family out of the Land of Enchantment (New Mexico) to return to the great state of Texas. I was having the time of my life as the pastor of a small, thriving church in the middle of nowhere, but as my dad’s health deteriorated, I reached out to a pastor in Texas and said, “Help me find me a church, any church in Dallas/Fort Worth.”

While some may only consider bigger or larger churches, I’ve always gone in the opposite direction, serving progressively smaller churches in almost 23 years of ministry. In a follow-up call, I remember saying, “Bro, there can be 10-20 people; just help me get to DFW.” His reply, however, caught me off guard: “How about DOM of Collin Baptist Association?” 

I was speechless for a moment but replied, “I’m 37 years old; I can’t be a DOM.” For those unaware, “DOM,” or “director of missions,” is now called an “associational mission strategist” and used to be called “associational missionary.” If you’re still scratching your head, this role leads the most local level of Southern Baptist Convention cooperation, usually in a county or a few neighboring counties. In fact, according to Ray Gentry, “Even before there was a Southern Baptist Convention, associations were the cornerstone of cooperation among Baptist churches in America.”

Anyway, I had a problem.

I knew of a few exceptions, but I’d only been in churches with older, retired pastors-turned-associational missionaries. They were always incredibly encouraging, but in my ignorance or personal experience, I only saw them as golf buddies, lunch partners, and pulpit suppliers. Well, I’m terrible at golf, and while I love to eat, I didn’t think my calling was to spend my days going from restaurant to restaurant. 

So, I said no, but my friend countered that my reluctance to replicate my personal experience, desire to network with churches for church planting, experience in church revitalization, and a heart for encouraging pastors was precisely what his association needed. I nevertheless agreed to pray about it, and he said he would, too.

Before I go on, allow me to provide a caveat. I have nothing against retired pastors serving as directors of missions or associational mission strategists. In fact, I think it’s a great thing! Many have a wealth of experience and wisdom they could provide young pastors starting out, churches going through pastoral transitions, and more. My experience, however, simply led me to my earlier response.

Suffice it to say the association received my resume, and I eventually landed an interview. In my questionnaire and subsequent interviews, I made my feelings pretty straightforward: I believe an association is at its best when it is focused on planting churches, strengthening churches, and encouraging pastors, not just serving as the one-stop spot for pulpit supply, golf outings, or endless meals. 

Don’t get me wrong, pulpit supply and fellowship are a part of it; I just didn’t believe they were the heart of it. Before I knew it, our association agreed and called me unanimously. We were on our way to lead the Collin Baptist Association, a network of Southern Baptist churches in Collin County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.

Understanding local associations

In the Southern Baptist Convention, you have local churches all over the country. Most of these fully autonomous churches choose to cooperate with local associations, state conventions, and the national convention. Some may be more or less involved on any level, but in a sense, these operate in concentric circles to ultimately fulfill the Great Commission.

Think about it this way, by way of an example:

In other words, the local church aims to advance the Kingdom in their city, the local association aims to help the local churches advance the Kingdom in their county, the state convention aims to help local associations and churches to advance the Kingdom in their state, and all cooperate as the Southern Baptist Convention to advance the Kingdom across the country and around the world.

While there’s more to it, it all comes down to cooperation. One local church can accomplish much for the Kingdom, for certain, but in cooperation with 120? 2000? 40,000? The impact on the Kingdom only grows! Thus, this article on the value of the most local level of Southern Baptist cooperation, the local association. I want to answer two questions:

  1. What is the value of the local association?
  2. How can you partner well with an association?

The value of the local association

I realize this may come across as self-serving since I’m an associational missionary trying to tell you there is value in a local association. Still, I truly believe there is significant value for you and your church. For example, when I was the pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church, we gave generously to several missionaries and church plants. Even if we threw all our financial support behind one church planter or missionary, it would fall short of covering their financial needs. However, in cooperation with other churches in our association, we were able to fund these dear saints to advance the Kingdom fully.

In other words, one church can accomplish a lot, but many like-minded churches partnering together can accomplish much more. That’s true of the Cooperative Program, and it’s true for local associations. Our association in New Mexico had an ESL (English as a Second Language) ministry that reached scores of Spanish-speaking immigrants with the good news of Jesus. Where’d the volunteers come from? The local churches in our association. How was it funded? From the generosity of the churches in our association.

I could go on and on about how local churches can do more in their geographical areas by cooperating with like-minded churches in their association, whether through disaster relief, church planting, pregnancy centers, food banks, or evangelistic events, but I think you get the idea. One church can make a difference in the Kingdom, but dozens of churches working together can do so much more.

Additionally, for pastors, we know ministry is awesome, but it can be hard at times. It can be lonely. We can’t always open up about our struggles with one of our church members. One of the things virtually all local associations offer is the opportunity to get together to encourage and be encouraged by fellow pastors. Back in New Mexico, my best friend was the only other pastor we had in our association under 40. We sought and received much wisdom and insight from the pastors with much more experience than us––it was such a blessing.

From working with fellow churches in your area to meet needs and advance the Kingdom to finding mentors and confidants in fellow, like-minded pastors, the value of the local association comes in looking beyond what you can accomplish within and from the four walls of your church. Watch what happens when you link arms with fellow pastors and churches in your area to do more, together.

Partner well with an association

However, you won’t see the value of local associations unless you cooperate with them. My friend J. Allen Murray says, “Cooperation necessitates participation.” We all had those team projects in school where one or two didn’t pull their weight, and local associations can be the same. An association’s value is only as great as the level of participation from the churches in the association.

If you’re a pastor or church member, go to the meetings, go to the fellowships, and reach out to the associational missionary to ask how your church can be a part of what the association is trying to do. Don’t just use the association as the one-stop spot for pulpit supply; see what God is doing in and through your association, and find a way to be a part. If you don’t see anything happening, get involved and make it happen! 

Are you skilled at church constitutions and by-laws? Let the associational missionary know you’d love to help if a church wants to rework its governing docs. Are you a whiz with all things audio/video or live stream? Offer to help share your skills with those that need it. Do you have decades upon decades of experience in pastoral ministry? Offer to take the youngest pastor in your association out to eat and become his mentor. Again, I could go on and on, but to see more value in your local association, you need to get involved. 

Southern Baptists say we are better together often, and rightfully so. It’s in our DNA. We know it’s the foundation of the Cooperative Program, but it’s also the foundation of our local churches, local associations, state conventions, and the family of churches we call the Southern Baptist Convention. But remember, cooperation necessitates participation––give your local association a try, pour into it, and let it pour into you. If you do, I suspect you’ll join me as the world’s biggest fan of the most local, practical level of cooperation in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Matt Henslee

Collin Baptist Association elected Dr. Matt Henslee as executive director/associational missionary on Aug. 12, 2021. Henslee is the husband of Rebecca , and they have the joy of raising four daughters they adopted in 2015. The Henslees reside in Farmersville and serve First Baptist Church of Farmersville where Matt is the … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24