I welcomed the pastor into my office and thanked him for coming.

“What’s this all about?”

I said, “Not unlike being sent to the principal’s office. Remember that?”

“Am I in trouble?” The very idea was foreign to him, since he knew I have no authority over him. Directors of Mission are the leaders of Baptist churches and pastors in a given area to the extent that they will let us lead. As with so much in Baptist life, it’s all about voluntary cooperation.

I said, “It’s more that you’re in a key position, being the pastor of one of our stronger churches, and–as it was reported to me–you have an attitude that is going to create a huge problem for you, for me, for our churches, and for your church.”

“By all means,” he said, “tell me what it is.”

“You tell me. I’d like to hear from you your personal view of the work of the association.”

“That’s all this is about? Well, this will be a short meeting.”

“Anytime you’re ready.”

He said, “The association exists for the benefit of the smaller churches. Our church is a large church. There might have been a time when we needed what the association offers, but that time is long past. We will participate in the work of the association from time to time, but not as much as under the previous pastors. We have too much to do that has nothing to do with the association.”

“That’s it?”

“Pretty much. To put it plainly, I think much of what you do is irrelevant to pastors like myself. The little guys–the pastors of those small, struggling churches would be a better way of putting it–they need encouragement and training and their people have a lot to learn. But frankly, much of what you do is geared to the little churches, and does not relate to us. Besides, my church staff is sharper than anyone you’re going to bring in to lead a conference. Why should we attend when we know more than the leaders do?”

“If that’s the case, then you’re right. But it’s not. Remember, I know your church. I’ve been around here for nearly two decades and I’m a member of your congregation, even though I don’t get there much. I’m out preaching in other churches almost every Sunday, as you know.”

He said, “I recognize that I’m attacking your bread and butter. But don’t worry–we’re not talking about cutting back on our contributions to the association. Your job is secure.”

“Be careful, friend. I’m not quick to take offense, but that’s borderline insulting. I assure you this is not remotely about me or my job security. It’s about the health of our churches and about all of us being faithful to the assignment God gave us in this community.”

“I didn’t mean for you to take it so personal,” he said. “Sorry.” Then, he said, “You don’t think our staff is sharper than the outsiders you bring in?”

“Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But it’s not about who’s sharper.”

“Then what is it about?”

“For one thing, it’s about learning from each other. No minister knows everything there is to know in his own field. We learn from one another. I gather by what you say that the only ministers you expect to learn from are the pastors of the megachurches. I grant you, they have a lot to teach. But if you have not learned that the pastors of some of those smaller churches are very sharp and pretty special people, then you have more to learn than I can teach you.”

“Now who’s getting personal?”

“It’s true or it isn’t. By your absence at the pastors’ gatherings, it appears to be true. Either you are too busy for the other pastors or you don’t think it’s worth your time. Either way, that seems to indicate you do not hold them in very high regard.”

He said, “Let me see if we can cut this short. Give me a reason–no, give me five good reasons why I should be active in the association and should keep our people involved.”

“I can give you a hundred,” I said, “but I’ll give you five. And let me remind you that I’m not a professional denominational person. I pastored for 42 years before the Lord moved me into this office. But I practiced what I’m now preaching to you. When we lived in Columbus, Charlotte, and Kenner, I came to the pastors’ conferences every month, I worked at learning the other pastors’ names, and I served as moderator of the associations. In each city, my church was one of the largest. But I felt it was important for those to whom much is given to give back much.”

“You’re going to give me five reasons.”

“I am. The only question is which five. Let’s start with this one. ONE: GOD’S PEOPLE NEED ONE ANOTHER. Scripture talks about how the head needs the body, the arm needs the leg, and so on. That’s not just referring to the local church. It’s all of God’s people. We need each other.”

“TWO: THE STRONG MUST HELP THE WEAK. Again, that teaching is not just for the members of one congregation. The church that is healthy should help the ones that are sick. Those that are growing have a lot to offer the stagnated ones. We ought to bear one another’s burdens.”

“THREE: I NEED THE FELLOWSHIP WITH THE OTHER PASTORS. Shepherding the Lord’s flock is lonely work. And the only people who really understand what you’re going through is guys just like you. You’re working with a huge budget and meeting in buildings so large you could put some of their churches inside your fellowship hall, but underneath it’s all pretty much the same. You’re all working on sermons, trying to walk close to the Lord, struggling with vision and family situations and time schedules and criticism. You all hold weddings and funerals and committee meetings. These are your people, pastor, and you’re cutting yourself off from them.”

He said, “I was never one much for getting close to other pastors.”

“I can tell that. But it’s not just you. It’s the same way with 90 percent of pastors. Most do not have a best friend in the ministry and have never sat down on a regular basis with 2 or 3 other ministers to talk about themselves and their work.”

“What’s next?” You could tell he was uncomfortable.

“FOUR: WE NEED A UNIFIED VOICE IN THIS COMMUNITY. It reminds me of how a choir works. Most of the members of your church choir are not soloists. If you stood them at a mike next Sunday and asked them to sing a solo, they would die. It wouldn’t sound very good, either. But put them alongside people with the same level of skill and they sound great. The total is greater than the sum of the parts.”

He said, “Are you talking about the churches coming together and passing resolutions on moral or social issues?”

“That and a hundred other things. It could be a community youth gathering or an evangelistic emphasis. Opposition to gambling. It could be the churches taking a stand for racial reconciliation. Frankly, pastor, the government leaders don’t worry much about a lot of individual churches speaking out on their shenanigans. But when the leaders of the churches come together and take a unified stand in the community, they can’t ignore you any longer.”

He was quiet, so I added, “I guarantee you the mayor will pay more attention when that letter on his desk comes from five churches in the town rather than just one. Even if that one is yours.”

“You have one more reason to go.”


He said, “That doesn’t sound like a reason for me to support it.”

“If you get a proper understanding of what the association is, you’re more likely to see where you fit.”

“So, what is the association?”

“Actually, pastor, there is no such thing. It doesn’t exist. It’s just a name we put on all the churches in an area–a town or county, or in our case, several parishes. That’s all the association is. It’s not me and it’s not this building. When your church sends a check each month to this office, you’re not giving me anything and you are not ‘supporting the denomination.’ You’re giving it to the church down the road. You’re helping some preacher start a church in that new subdivision across town.”

I said, “The association is nothing in the world except the local family of churches of like faith. Go back and study your church’s history. You’ll find that the other churches in this association–some of which no longer exist–bailed your congregation out of trouble several times over the years. One time, a church lent your church hymnals and folding chairs. When your sanctuary burned a half-century ago, churches all over this area took up offerings to help build a new one, the one you now use as a chapel. Friend, had it not been for the other churches, your church would not exist.”

He seemed to be listening. I continued, “In fact, you know that little struggling church over on Crossbow Lane? The one where the pastor works during the week as a plumber and goes to night school? They started your church a hundred years ago.”

I said, “Now, for all these years, your members have acknowledged their debt to the other churches. You have some pretty wonderful people in your congregation and they love to bless the other churches. Several years ago, some of the men gave up their Saturdays and traveled fifty miles to help build the educational building down at Croix Island. These people love the other churches, and they’ve been faithful.”

“Then, you come along,” I continued, “and suddenly, you put a stop to it. You tell them the association is for the little guys and our church is beyond that, that we don’t have time to stop and help the weak ones anymore. And because you are the pastor and they want to give you a chance to put your vision into effect, you’ve not received any negative reaction. But I have. They tell me. And frankly, friend, you would not like what I’m hearing.”

“What are they saying?” he said.

“No. I’m not going to hit you with anonymous criticism. That wouldn’t be fair. But just know this: one of the best things about having a large congregation is that you have enough people to do a lot of things. Some want to be active in the association helping the other churches. And they’ll tell you that it blesses them as much as it does the ones they help.”

“In fact, pastor, I’ll make you a promise. Encourage your people to stay active in the association and come to the meetings yourself when you can, and all it will do is bless you and strengthen your church. But if the time ever comes when you feel it detracts from your church and weakens your own ministries, let me know and if I see you’re right, I will publicly eat crow and never say another word to you about this again.”

He said, “You’re pretty sure about this, aren’t you?”

“Dead sure. After all, it’s not a new concept, churches coming together to help one another. It’s all through the New Testament, in Acts and the Epistles.”

He said, “Are we through, principal?”

“Yes. You can go back to your home room now. Smart aleck.”

We both laughed.


  1. I hate to see this level of arrogance – but often see it – from larger Church pastors. The fact is our Church is transforming from a small to a mid sized Church, but not because of me. Its transforming because we as a Church have bent the knee to Jesus, and have decided to love Him and to follow His Word even unto the death. When the believers of a local Church set their hearts to love Jesus and to magnify His Word in deed – not just with the lips – then God transforms the Church. It took me a long time to realize all I could do is – like Uzzah and King David – mishandle God’s heritage – and to do so is to bring death into the midst of God’s people. The best thing any pastor can do is preach the Word, and love as much as God will enable – and then stand amazed as we see His blessed hand at work.

  2. Joe, this is excellent. How True dear brother. I learned this long ago in Tutwiler, Mississippi. Why is it that the big time Pastors never seem to go to the Associational meetings unless they are speaking. We all need each other, and I thank God for Directors of Missions who have encouraged me to be at the Associational Meeting each Month. As one told me years ago, Buddy you might need us some time so be faithful. I thank God for every rememberence of you Joe. Excellent Article.

  3. Joe, I needed to read this. Thanks for hitting me between the eyes. We are one of the largest churches in our association (and we are the largest financial supporter of the association), but I sometimes feel like the association is a drain on our church more than a help to our church. I needed to be reminded of our responsibility to help weaker churches. And I truly do want to be a kingdom builder, not a private empire builder.

    There is one issue, however, that I think associations and smaller churches do not understand about the position of the pastor of a larger church. In a larger church, the demands on our time are much greater, which makes it harder to be as active in meetings. In my association, the pastor’s meeting is on my day off, and it would require me to take half of my day off to drive into the city (we’re in the suburbs) and attend the meeting. I don’t know; maybe I need to take a different day off so that I can be more involved. I will pray about doing that.

    Thanks again for preaching to this preacher.

  4. I was just having this conversation with a good friend of mine who serves on a large church staff. Thansk fro the 5, can you send me the other 95, my friend is sometimes a little hard headed.


  5. Thanks Joe for sharing with this pastor the true meaning of the Association and how his church could be a blessing to the life of the Association. You nailed it down tight! Thanks!

  6. “One time, a church lent your church hymnals and folding chairs. When your sanctuary burned a half-century ago, churches all over this area took up offerings to help build a new one, the one you now use as a chapel. Friend, had it not been for the other churches, your church would not exist.”

    It is imperative to emphasize how true it is to remind successful people how they first started, and that was with the help from others…how easy it is for some to forget- and need to be reminded.

    I see that in some people, who feel they don’t need others anymore, when in fact, they wouldn’t be where they are now- had it not been for others helping them from the beginning.

    Thanks for sharing that message.

    Love from your daughter,

    -Carla Jin

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