Not long ago, the pastor of an already growing church contacted me about “becoming Southern Baptist.” His church was starting to think about planting another church or campus, and had heard about the partnership and resources available through our North American Mission Board.
As I began explaining Southern Baptist polity and structure to him, I realized that those of us who “became” Southern Baptist when our parents enrolled us in the church nursery may sometimes take for granted the way our largest Protestant denomination in America operates and cooperates. In fact, many laypeople in our churches today might have trouble answering this pastor’s question.
Later I wished I had explained Southern Baptist life to him the way I truly think about it—like a family. A local church is like the immediate family you live with every day. You do life with them and know them intimately, in good times and bad, for better and worse.
A local Baptist association is like your family that lives nearby. You might see them every week, or maybe once a month, perhaps for dinner or to help with a project. They would help you move, or loan you their truck, or pick up your kids or grandkids in an emergency. They are your first line of support, and your first line of defense. You trust them, and you count on them, because they’re family, even if they don’t live at your house all the time.
Illinois Baptists will celebrate their annual ‘family reunion’ Nov. 7-9.
A state Baptist Association or Convention is like a more extended family. The distance between family members keeps you from seeing everyone in person very often. But you talk by phone, and you’re Facebook friends, and you’re aware of what each other is doing. When you’re in their town, you visit them. When their kids graduate or get married, or have a big life event, you’re there. And they’re there for you too.
When you are together with extended family, it’s still clear you’re related. The subtle family resemblances are there. Behaviors and preferences may be diverse, but values are largely the same. You know the same folklore. You celebrate the same heritage. You would still do anything for each other, even if Uncle Bill irritates you a little. You would never want to leave or lose this family, even if you’re grateful to get back in the car and go home.
Then there’s the national Southern Baptist Convention, which I might compare to a nationwide family reunion. I attended one of those once, for the Cunningham line of my family, which has gathered every Father’s Day weekend for decades in western Kentucky. We loved going, and met people we had never met before, and it didn’t take long to discover common threads, and certainly common values. I hope to go again someday. And if you ask me, “Are you a Cunningham?” I will proudly say yes, and eagerly help anyone from that family.
I know lots and lots of pastors and church members who have never been to a national Southern Baptist Convention, but who faithfully give to Southern Baptist missions, and who faithfully believe The Baptist Faith and Message. It’s a wonderful, diverse, large family.
And so, with a newfound warmth and enthusiasm for family, I invite you to come to Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur this November 7-9 for the IBSA Pastors’ Conference and IBSA Annual Meeting. In fact, bring someone with you who hasn’t been to this extended family gathering in a while. You won’t know everyone, but everyone you meet will be family. They believe what you believe, and they work together at doing the things you know are most important. And at least most of us would do anything for you.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.