The Central City Baptist Association (CCBA) was known throughout the SBC as a place of innovation, leadership, and Kingdom-wins. It was not one of the largest associations, but it had an above average number of churches, a healthy budget, and three generations of pastors working together across the city. The CCBA avoided significant denominational political dilemmas, and therefore, opened its membership to churches that supported either the 1963 or 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. In a state split by such controversies, the CCBA was seen as a model partner for both of the conventions present in the state. The explicit mission of the association was to help churches reach the lost, start new congregations without specifying the organizational model, and to pour resources into pastors rather than buildings or programs.
In the latter part of the 1980s, the CCBA intensified its emphasis on church planting. CCBA was one of the first associations to champion the cause of using multiple models and abundant church planting to reach the needs of American cities. As a result, CCBA acted as a kind of recruiter, seeking out talented young leaders among their established member churches and directly from seminaries. CCBA planted more churches in 1989 than half of the state conventions within the SBC during the same year.
Throughout the 1990s, the CCBA focused on leadership development. They started a program called “Leadership Now” which eventually educated pastors on general leadership principles, spiritual disciplines, organizational behavior, systems thinking, strategic planning, and community development. The program was an intense three-year process, but the participants were wildly supportive of the program despite the rigor. The GBA focused on getting its younger leaders through the program, and provided small groups led by established pastors for them to learn from each other and hear the voice of experience. The end result was the equivalent of a Master’s degree in church leadership and served to fill an unknown gap in their seminary education.
The CCBA program achieved many of the intended results. Program graduates were experts at leading teams, casting vision, strategic planning, creativity, modeling authentic discipleship, and implementing practical ministries. Their churches grew and were known for their cultural relevancy and gospel-centered approach. What were once young pastors and church planters in a leadership program had grown up in the association and embraced the association staff as both close friends and mentors. Their churches were models for the next generation of young leaders.
The unintended consequences of the system were not present at first. But one day at staff meeting, as the next year’s budget was being discussed, a staff member happened upon an interesting fact. “Did anyone realize Fred’s church only contributed $500 last year?” The other staff members quickly dismissed the number as a mistake. “That can’t be right, we’ve known Fred for 20 years. He’s been with us since “Leadership Now” was started. He’s been a moderator! His mission budget is almost six figures!”
After some investigation, not only was the amount of Fred’s church’s contribution proven to be correct, but it was consistent with a ten-year pattern. And Fred was not alone. When contributions from churches were examined, the staff discovered many of the “Leadership Now” graduates were relatively low contributors. The final analysis prompted the staff to conclude that all the training and development given to pastors like Fred birthed a generation of highly competent, creative, missional, entrepreneurial pastors in lock-step with the heart of the association and its vision. Yet those same pastors developed ministries of their own, and between them and the association, no thought was given to how these pastors would be instrumental in helping the association raise up the next generation of pastors. The association played a tremendous role in producing a single generation of world-changing churches. But now the association had simply outlived its usefulness, a victim of the organizational life cycle.