Now called the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders, the group eliminated the offices of president, first vice president, second vice president and editor, replacing the old structure with a team ministry model that will double the number of elected leaders and include in leadership representatives from the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, GuideStone Financial Resources and Woman's Missionary Union.
The new name reflects the reality that paid associational leaders are not all called directors of missions, with many carrying titles like executive director and associational missionary, according to outgoing president Johnny Rumbough.
The team ministry structure "will help the organization to be able to make decisions more expediently and put the emphasis on the missionary equipping component, which is what we're about," said Rumbough, director of missions for the Lexington Baptist Association in Lexington, S.C. In team ministry, leaders make decisions and carry out ministry tasks rather than making decisions then directing other people to do the work, he said.
Speakers at the conference included IMB President Tom Elliff, NAMB President Kevin Ezell, GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins, WMU Executive Director-treasurer Wanda Lee and NAMB vice president of mobilization Aaron Coe.
Among the topics of breakout sessions were "partnerships among associations," "reaching the nations that live in your association," "training pastor search committees" and "the missionary role of the director of missions."
The new organizational structure includes an executive team and a nominating team, each elected by the conference for three-year terms. A recording secretary is elected annually. The executive team will elect a conference team leader who will be responsible for planning the annual conference and appointing a team to assist him. The position of executive director-treasurer is eliminated under the new structure.
The constitution and bylaw changes that create the new structure also allow the group to hold its annual conference at a time not in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
The changes will result in a larger team planning the annual conference in order to accommodate growth, Rumbough said. From the 1,000-plus Baptist associations in America, fewer than 200 leaders have attended the conference in recent years, but Rumbough said potential attendees number 2,000-3,000.
"The challenges that associations face are in the area of missions strategy," Rumbough said. "So we're wanting through this conference to provide the kind of equipping that will help our associational leaders be better prepared to reach the communities where they live."
Hawkins told directors of missions that they are like the biblical character Barnabas, providing encouragement to those in ministry. Barnabas only "has center stage four times in the Bible," Hawkins said. "And every one of those times he's like a DOM. He's out there having to deal with issues and he's encouraging people."
Coe told DOMs that they play a key role in NAMB's Send North America strategy for planting churches and reaching people for Christ across the U.S. and Canada. He added that by hosting one of NAMB's Churches Planting Churches training sessions an association can help its pastors think like missionaries.
"One of the biggest reasons our churches are in decline is that the neighborhoods around our churches have changed, and our churches have lost their missional vision on how to reach the communities that are right around them," Coe said. The training sessions help churches "think missionally."
David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky.
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