A quick look at what state conventions do.
What do state conventions do? What does a state convention do to serve the churches? Whether you are speaking with a group of seminarians, a group of pastors, a local church finance committee or a group of independent evangelicals, “What does a state convention do?” is a legitimate question.
What are the unique things that state conventions do for the kingdom of God?
1. Sound the Trumpet—In Old Testament times leaders in a particular jurisdiction were given the privilege, the permission and the power to convene the people, to sound a trumpet and assemble the people for a common purpose. OT prophets were called on to assemble the people “Blow the trumpet in Zion; set apart a fast, a day of restraint and humility; call a solemn assembly. Gather the people . . .” Joel 2:15-16
In the Book of Acts there are examples of leaders who assembled to make determinations about various issues facing the early church. Church history bears record of numerous councils formed by church leaders from various geographic locations for the purpose of seeking wisdom and determining perspective. There are times when the people of God need to be convened to consider the purposes of God and how to collectively fulfill the mission.
In the context of Southern Baptist life, this is the role of the state convention. No one church or national entity can summon the people called Southern Baptists who live in a particular state or region. The state convention can do so because of a principle called “jurisdictional leadership.”
Here is how jurisdictional leadership works: Churches summon their local members. Associations call together the people that live in their particular area. State/regional conventions call Southern Baptists living in that jurisdiction together to determine the protocols of their cooperative ministries. Southern Baptist leaders call together Southern Baptists on a national scale to determine the scope and practice of the national and international ministries. Every level has the power to convene the people.
Accurately, Southern Baptists use the term “leadership,” not jurisdictional “authority.” Southern Baptists have a history of resistance to hierarchical structures in our ecclesiology. In Southern Baptist life, there are four levels of jurisdictional leadership founded on the Acts 1:8 model. Every level cooperates in shared ministry. Every level values the other levels for the significant contribution they each make in the work of the Kingdom. There is the sense of partnership and fraternity; not dominance over each other.
Effective state conventions understand that part of leadership means they work with the associations to convene the people in a local area to accomplish a particular goal. State convention missionaries do this with an attitude of service and partnership, not authoritarianism. Effective national entity leaders understand that partnering with state convention leaders maximizes the capacity to encourage the people in a given jurisdiction to join in an initiative. This is sometimes referred to as consensus building, a vital component of organizational life.
The state conventions convene the people in their respective jurisdictions at our Annual Meeting for the primary purpose of reporting on the previous year and setting the goals and policies for cooperative work in the future. The state convention also networks with its churches and church leaders through personal relationships, writing, events, supply preaching and other methods of communication to tell the story of God at work in and through the cooperative churches in their jurisdiction.
This is part of how we do our work as cooperating Southern Baptists. Somebody must lead the cooperative work in a state/region and state conventions and their respective state missionaries have that particular assignment.
2. Strengthen Churches—State conventions are only as strong as the churches in its jurisdiction. Effective church leaders are perpetually engaged in strengthening their local congregation in the seven functions of a local church. Those seven functions are worship, evangelism, discipleship, leadership, stewardship, ministry and missions. State convention leaders, your state missionaries are constantly equipping church leaders with the tools for improving these functions. This makes for stronger churches and healthier ministries that impact not only the local church, and the local association but also the greater cooperative global work.
The state convention assists churches with leadership training and organizational structuring so that local churches become more effective in evangelizing, disciple-making, and congregationalizing.
3. Support Pastor/servants of the Lord serving the local church—The most important key to healthy, evangelistic and mission-minded churches is effective leadership. State conventions facilitate the work of pastors and staff members by providing leadership training, strategic planning and personal mentoring initiatives. It doesn’t matter if the pastor is in a traditional congregation or a congregation birthed in the last six months, six years, leadership equipping is vital for 21st century ministry.
When relational trauma erupts in a congregation or association, the state convention is a primary resource for navigating the potential hostilities. Most state conventions also have some level of coordinated care ministries for pastors and staff members who experience forced termination. Many local churches turn to the state convention for the training of search committees, transitional leadership and resumes for potential candidates.
Goal of your state convention–No church without a pastor. No pastor without a friend.
4. Start Churches—Every New Testament church is a Great Commission church. Every church with effective evangelism, discipleship and missions ministries is engaged in starting new churches. Churches start churches, but who coordinates the churches that are ready to be part of launching a new church? Who works with churches/associations to launch churches, equip the leaders and develop standards and benchmarks of accountability? That work is one of the primary tasks of the state convention.
The state convention synergistically works with multiple churches, the association and a pool of church planters to strategically facilitate churches planting churches in a state or region. One exceptional model for this is the state convention in Ohio that has planted over 200 churches in the past 14 years. One church alone cannot begin to do that.
Even national church planting networks comprised of large mega-congregations do not have the kind of track record reported by this one Midwest state. State convention missiologists, who constantly study the demographics, partner with the local churches and associational leaders and strategically probe into new areas of ministry, that have the greatest potential to help churches plant churches.
5. Send the Light to the nations—In multiple spheres, state conventions are involved in sharing the gospel to the ends of the earth. One of the ways a state convention does this is through its promotion, collecting and distribution of Cooperative Program mission funds received from the churches. This requires careful accounting and clear protocols so that the funds from the churches are moved through the state convention and on to the national entities. The national entities are dependent on the faithful and trustworthy work of the state conventions so that they can fulfill their ministry assignments.
Another way a state convention sends out the gospel light is through strategic planning of multigenerational ministries. Obviously, there is a small minority of churches that have the capacity to provide multi-generational and multi-people group ministries, but such a task can be overwhelming for the majority of local churches. The state convention orchestrates these ministries with churches and associations to accomplish this goal.
For example, every university campus in North America needs an evangelical gospel outreach and discipleship ministry that helps students become evangelized, mission-oriented and congregationalized. The state convention coordinates the Baptist Collegiate Ministries so that a comprehensive, on-campus ministry exists.
State conventions also facilitate the mission network for volunteers. Whether coordinating trained Disaster Relief teams or Baptist Builders, the state convention harnesses the willingness of volunteers from multiple congregations to make a difference for the sake of the gospel.
Since state conventions have a particular geographic area to reach with the gospel, they facilitate strategies to reach every people group residing in that particular jurisdiction. It doesn’t matter if that people group has a particular ethnic composition or speaks another language or lives within the parameter of a prison, a state convention partners with local churches and associations to reach all the peoples.
One other component of this aspect of state convention work is that of promoting the special mission offerings (state, national and international). Through the network of Southern Baptists in a particular state, promotional materials, training, motivational events encourage individual Baptists and their churches to use these special offerings for the purpose of reaching the state, the nation and the ends of the earth with the gospel.
We sent the light to the nations in multiple ministries.
6. Synchronize the work of the entities—The organizational work of cooperative churches is an amalgamation of state and national entities that are constantly working together toward Great Commission goals. Whether it is a state Baptist Liberal Arts College, an international mission board, an associational camp, student work on the college campus, equipping conferences, disaster relief ministry, children’s services, there must be a sychronizer.
This is so that the institutions avoid duplication of ministry services and minimize the holes in the safety net. The state convention, through its leadership, is the organizational “touch point” that promotes the fraternal relationships between the churches, associations, state convention entities and national ministries.
This is so that the Great Commission ministries are accomplished with maximum effectiveness and efficiency. “Fraternal” and “partnership” are important words that characterize the working relationships between the state convention and the associations and state entities in its jurisdiction and between the state convention and the national SBC entities. This factor is one of the reasons we have the Cooperative Program. Instead of every church, every association and every state and national ministry acting independently, we have learned we can synchronize our work and accomplish far more for the glory of our God than we could ever do on our own.
7. Shine the light in the public square—State conventions have a powerful cooperative voice in the state legislature for good and right. Just ask any legislator and they will tell you that in a congressional hearing, a person representing an individual church does not carry the same weight of influence as a person sharing the perspective of 1,900 churches. Cooperating churches shine a greater light in the public square.
There are special interest groups in every state using the state laws to bend the culture away from biblical principles and to regulate the activities of churches. For example, municipalities and states are desperately looking for revenue. There is a move in state government to remove the exemption of ad valorum taxes on church property. If this were to come to pass, one can only imagine the financial impact on existing and potential new churches. A state convention of cooperating churches has enormous influence to help legislators keep church properties off the tax rolls.
There was a day when legislators and governmental administrations respected the domain of the churches. They understood the invaluable contribution churches made to a community’s infrastructure. In many places that perspective has evaporated with the growing secularization of the culture. The state convention is the most effective and efficient means of addressing state moral/social/regulatory/liberty issues with prudence and strategic statesmanship.
I cannot leave this item without saying this. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the question is not whether we are prolife or something else. The issue is what does God say. Ps 139 is clear. Every life is precious and sacred. The soil of our land is stained with the blood of 60 million innocent children sacrificed on the altar of humanistic choice. How long will God extend mercy on our nation for this atrocity.
How do we work together to make Missouri the first abortion free state in the union? We won’t do it sitting on our blessed assurance. We must stand up. We must stand up together. We must known for our principled compassion for the lives and souls of men and women in our state.
What does a state convention do?
Your state convention serves at the direction of the cooperative Missouri Baptist churches. The churches assign the state convention to do the larger scale functions that are more than what a single independent church can do. State conventions work with smaller in attendance churches and larger churches and every association to fulfill the functions assigned to us.
The beauty of Southern Baptists is that no matter the size, every church is valuable—every association has worth—every state convention is needed—every Southern Baptist national entity has an immeasurable role to play in the kingdom of God. And we must count everything as loss for the sake of the cross. It’s how Southern Baptists do our work, now and until we hear the trumpet call pronouncing the day of the Lord.