Making Celebration Church the setting for the annual meeting was a perfect choice. The sanctuary seating capacity of 800 was filled to capacity. The brightly colored stage was fully lit, and there was a party atmosphere in the air. Yes, this is the annual meeting for a Baptist association.
But, it wasn’t just any annual meeting. This was the 150th year of the association’s existence, and four generations of pastors, along with people from their staff and congregations, crowded into both levels of the building to join in the celebration. There was only one item on the business agenda: passing a resolution celebrating all that the churches of the Metropolis Baptist Association (MBA) had accomplished together over a century and a half. The rest of the time was for worship, speeches, slide shows, and fellowship.
The DOM takes his seat on the stage in the first row of chairs next to the four pastors on the association leadership team. As a testament to all the years of cross-denominational partnerships and deep friendships, judicatory representatives from six other evangelical denominations in the city and a Catholic archbishop were seated in a row behind them. The President of the SBC stands behind the podium to welcome the crowd. A raucous 30 minutes of worship pass by in an instant, as does the President’s keynote speech.
The DOM allows his mind to wander as he glances over the crowd. The first thing he notices is retired pastors sitting among established and younger pastors. He smiles. MBA pastors naturally gather by their cross-generational cohort as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Those men have breathed life and spoken truth into each other, seeing past methodological—and sometimes even theological—differences in an effort to grow healthy churches that are in place to reach the city and meet the needs of people. Pockets of ethnic pastors gather together from over 50 language groups. Their “grandchildren,” the third generation ethnic pastors who all have ethnic names but English fluency, cluster in the front right of the sanctuary. Most of them are proudly wearing their “MUTTS” t-shirts, the moniker they chose to describe their unique cross-cultural ministry niche.
The DOM knows he doesn’t deserve any credit for the last thirty years of MBA’s success. After all, he’s only been on the job for three years. But each of the leadership council pastors include him among the men sitting on the opposite side of the stage: the last five DOMs to lead the MBA. Together, the six of them created an ongoing culture of innovation, collaboration, spiritual and relational vitality, and an enduring sense of unity within the association.
Over the years, the programs have changed as the needs of the churches have changed. The association followed some of the convention’s trends, one decade focusing on healthy churches and the decade before focusing on church growth. In other times, the association cast a vision and called for approaches years ahead of anyone else in the convention. MBA had trained leaders and encouraged those leaders to take associational leadership positions and mentor other pastors.
The slide show runs and traces the association’s history, including times of robust church planting, individual missionary support, revival meetings, and online training courses. Pictures of pastors standing in front of repurposed buildings fade in and out of the frame. Scenes of disaster relief come next, reminding the crowd of weeks when pastors were more likely to hold a shovel or chainsaw than a Bible. In times of need, the association rallied together. A map flashes on the screen, showing MBA churches across four different states, more than two days driving distance from east to west. MBA never solicited churches from other states, but as word got out, churches came to the association.
Only moments from now, the DOM will address the crowd. He starts to wonder if he should use a different lead in sentence. What about how different generations of pastors had contributed to the association for the needs of the pastors coming behind them? What about calling attention to how the churches valued the association’s culture, wanting it to endure beyond their individual tenures? What about how megachurches had sent people to help plant downtown simple churches, or how young professionals had lent their services to more established churches in order to upgrade their technology and equipment?
“No,” he thinks, “I’m going to stick with what I planned originally.”
The slide show ends, the house lights come back up, and the eyes of every person in the sanctuary are on him. Stepping into the spotlight and placing his open Bible on the podium, he utters a single phrase without raising his head to see the crowd. The room erupts in applause as the crowd hears, “Soli Deo Gloria!”