In order for any organization to survive it must adapt. Walmart for example adapts all the time. They do not leave even the simplest things the same if increased productivity is possible. If the local associations are going to survive, they are going to have to adapt. I choose the word adapt intentionally. Change is dangerous because it can be done with out purpose or only to accommodate the latest fad. Adapting however is intentional and meets a specific need. The local associations don’t need to go changing what they do, only adapting what they do in order to meet the current needs in the churches they serve. Below is the first way I believe the local association can adapt to not only survive but to lead our churches into the future.
One of the strongest aspects of the local association as they now stand is the fellowship of pastors, as I wrote previously. Some say to become better you should focus on your weaknesses to make them stronger, and there is some truth to that. However, it seems even more productive if you improve something you are already doing well. If associations can take that time of pastoral fellowship and adapt it or build upon it to form some kind of pastoral training, great things would happen in our associations and our churches.
Many associations serve churches were very few pastors have formal theological training. This is the case not because the pastors don’t want training, but because they don’t have access to it. These men crave the knowledge and experiences some of their colleagues received in seminary. I am extremely confident that the local association can secure its place in the future of Christian life if they would become training outposts for pastors all over the nation.
My experience here in the Cross Church School of Ministry has taught me that training, even formal training, is possible in any setting, and seminaries are ready and willing to work with churches to provide it. The only issue is finding funding and qualified teachers, but I’m willing to bet both of those things exist in almost every association. Not every church has the resources to start a pastoral training program, and not every church has enough men desiring training to warrant such a program anyway, but the association as a whole does.
If the association partnered with a seminary such as Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary they could take advantage of the EQUIP program and other programs like it. In this program a student can earn as many as 30 hours toward his Mdiv without ever entering a classroom. The best part is that these classes can be taught by anyone with post masters level work. The seminary provides the curriculum and does all the accreditation, but the teaching is done by men who have faithfully served in the trenches of ministry. On top of that, the teachers actually receive a stipend from the school instead of paying in to the school. The future of theological education is found in programs like these.
Imagine if there was a localized organization that serves as a hub for an area of local churches where such a program could be hosted. Oh wait, such a place already exists… the local association.