It appears that one thing that’s common place in Free Will Baptists, and other denominations I would guess, is the decline and lack of interest in local association meetings. Four times a year these meetings are scheduled, and for some, these dates aren’t looked forward to. And I’m only speaking for those who attend. For the vast majority, association meetings aren’t even on their radar. Some could care less. Some don’t even know these meetings take place, though an announcement has most likely been made in their presence.
Let’s ask an honest question. Can the association meeting ever be revived? The answer to that question is of course, “Yes.” But this answer leads to the logical question of, “How?” How can our association meetings be revived? The answer to this question will surprise many and show that our present situation is far bleaker than we realize.
Possible answers to the question of “How?” aren’t bad ones. Less business. More helpful preaching and teaching. A need for accountability. More true fellowship. A sense of unity. A focus on praying together. Though not all associations are in dire circumstances, for probably most, this brief list would quickly help improve many meetings.
But as helpful as these answers may be, are we not missing the bigger picture? Some of the main complaints about association meetings is the lack of interest, poor attendance, little commitment, not working together, and that few are willing to serve. And are these problems not the same problems we see in local churches? What we need to see is that we don’t primarily have an association problem. We have a church problem. Until we see a revived church, we will never see revived associations.
Our ecclesiastical structure is one of bottom-up, not top-down. In other words, the local church is the most important aspect of our structure. This doesn’t mean that other levels aren’t important, nor that we should neglect them. We shouldn’t. But they all fail to compare to the importance of the local church.
And this means as the local church goes, so goes everything else. Are churches lacking zeal, unity, and love? So will everything else. Are they lacking love for God’s Word? So will everything else. Low desire to follow God in the church? Low desire everywhere else.
As our current state becomes clearer, it also becomes darker. We not only have an association problem. We have a church problem.
Brothers and sisters, I want strong, vibrant associations. But first we must have strong, vibrant churches. We must at least begin to think and talk about these things. I am thankful for the Churches and Pastors that are. And here is the good news. God can do just this. God is more willing to revive and strengthen our churches than we are to be revived and strengthened. We must humbly return to God and His Word, and be committed to do what He says. And when we do, we not only will see the revival of our associations, but of our churches.