by Miles M. Grismore
“What ya’ll have is neat!”
I had heard Tom say it many times. I knew what he meant. My wife, Mary, and I had become good friends of Tom and his wife, Michelle, when they relocated from the South to pastor an independent, nonaffiliated church not far from us when we lived in Waterloo, Iowa. He had often expressed a longing to have the kind of associational relationships we had.
This year on our way to Lansing, Michigan, for the 2006 GARBC Annual Conference, we stopped by to spend some time with Tom and Michelle, now living and pastoring in Indiana. Tom is involved in a Bible-believing, separatist, evangelistic, missionary-minded, growing church. It seems you could hardly ask for more; but he said it again: “What ya’ll have is neat!” It always gets me thinking about the joys and benefits that we have by being part of an association of churches.
My dad and mom got saved when I was two years old. Dr. J. L. Patten was the guest speaker at Springbranch Community Church, located on the corner of our farm in southern Iowa. When I was four we moved to Omaha, Nebraska, so my dad could prepare at Omaha Baptist Bible Institute for the ministry. We attended Grace Baptist Church, a GARBC church. There I trusted Christ as Savior at age six. My dad pastored GARBC churches as I was growing up. Later I graduated from Faith Baptist Bible College and subsequently have had pastoral ministries in three GARBC churches. Basically I have known nothing else. However, I am still challenged every time I hear Tom say it: “What ya’ll have is neat!”
On a personal level, the Annual National Conference is a joyful reminder of the many friendships Mary and I have made over the years. We enjoy these friendships built around a common faith and practice and common endeavors that the Association provides.
Back in 1991 my family was devastated when our eight-year-old son, Brandon, unexpectedly died. Our church family rushed to our side and was an amazing source of support to us. In addition, scores of Associational acquaintances offered their expressions of loving care. We received cards, phone calls, and even money from people and churches from all over the country, some of whom we had no previous connection with, except that they were Associational “brothers.” Frankly we were almost euphoric in the face of tragedy, and God used that bond to sustain us during those first months.
As it relates to family, I am convinced that parents are responsible to bring up their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). I am also a strong believer in building a network of people and programs into my children’s lives that will help me get the job done. I don’t want just anyone doing that, nor do I trust just any program that has the word “youth” in it. I want people and programs that will reinforce the teachings and values that I hold dear. My local church provides that pillar with programming and personnel I can trust. My son, Ethan, just returned from a wilderness trip sponsored by our church and led by godly adults who love God and my son. That devotion, I believe, is of inestimable value.
Beyond that, I know that what is assisting my family is also aiding and strengthening many other families of our church. Our people are encouraged and strengthened when we can load our teens into a van and send them to youth rallies sponsored by our area fellowship of a dozen churches. The rally may be a gathering at a YMCA, an all-night bowling party, or a viewing of the Final Four, but we are confident that our teens will receive preaching, teaching, and modeling consistent with the convictions and values of our local association and to which we, too, are personally committed.
As I write this, twenty of our church’s teens are at the Iowa Regular Baptist Camp. A total of 550 senior high young people are there, accompanied by 150 counselors, staff, and administrative personnel. Our camp is committed to the same doctrine and values that our church holds dear. We send our teens with confidence, knowing that they will be challenged to make personal decisions of eternal consequence. Some will get saved; others will respond to the call of God to full-time ministry, perpetuating our heritage. All will be confronted with the Word of God to live godly lives in an ungodly world. Our camp is owned by the Iowa Association of Regular Baptist Churches. None of our churches on its own could manage and staff a camp of this size and caliber, but together we can. What a tremendous blessing! Our families and churches are strengthened through this unique Associational ministry.
What we’ve got is “neat”! Benefits of our Association are numerous and incredible. The ordination of a man to the gospel ministry is an extremely important function of the local church. To gather a council of trusted men from Association churches to help examine the candidate for his doctrinal orthodoxy is wise and helpful. And when churches find themselves embroiled in struggles that they seemingly cannot resolve, it is of great benefit to enlist the help of wise, impartial people of churches like their own. Unfortunately this practice is probably not employed as often as it should be. When assisting prospective new members of his church, a pastor should make it a practice to call the former churches. He could discover where the prospects are spiritually so the baton can be effectively passed in guiding them to spiritual maturity. The pastor may also discover that a prospect is running from discipline or is perpetually discontented.
A church without a pastor often reaches out to an association representative for help. The representative will not just give the church a list of names but will counsel the church candidate committee concerning the process and help them make wise, informed decisions concerning a potential shepherd for their flock. I have received good help as I have searched for an associate from time to time. I have benefited greatly from checking out prospects with colleagues in sister churches around the prospects to determine their reputations.
An association can and does sound collective warnings to those who may deviate doctrinally or adopt trendy, pragmatic methodology. The cautions from Associational brethren help us keep from careening into the radical “ditch.”
New Testament model
Much has changed in the last two thousand years, but the New Testament gives us examples of churches that banded together to solve a doctrinal dilemma or to help a church in dire financial straits due to a natural disaster or persecution. Churches at that early stage did not have an official association of churches. But it was natural and helpful for them to work together for the purpose of strengthening and advancing the cause of Christ. Christians personally, and churches collectively, benefited.
To me, the value in an association of churches of like faith and practice has not diminished but rather has increased. I am personally grateful for the association I have—and that my church has—with Regular Baptists in my area, in Iowa, in America, and around the world. The older I get, the longer I pastor, and the more I think about it, I realize that what Tom said, “What ya’ll have is neat,” is exactly right!
Miles M. Grismore pastors Faith Baptist Church, Mason City, Iowa.