In today's world a growing number of church leaders and pastors have no denominational background. So, it is common to hear the question, "Why belong to a denominational group of churches?” As national denominations have become institutionalized, lost vision and have little to offer the local church even long-time adherents to a denomination are asking the question.
There is a good answer to the question. But, a little background helps, especially in our Northwest context. In the 19th century as Baptist churches pushed west they worked together to extend the reach of the Gospel. A primary motivator was their desire to plant churches in areas without a Gospel witness. Through prayer they discerned where the next church should be planted. Then they would bring in an evangelist from the Baptist Home Mission Society who would hold evangelistic meetings with support from local congregations from nearby towns. Many new believers came to Christ through these efforts. These new disciples joined with other believers God had sovereignly placed in the area and together they would form a new church.
In this way early Baptists realized that by joining forces they could make progress that otherwise would not happen. This cooperative work formed the basis for their local associations.
In addition to evangelistic outreach and church planting they built churches, providing manpower for construction along with financial backing. Additionally the local association trained pastors and credentialed them. They resourced local church leaders. They encouraged one another and held each other accountable through regular meetings which included music, preaching and church reports. Counting baptisms and new members was stressed.
What those early Baptists discovered by working together through their local association carries forward to today's context. These discoveries included these notions:
- They were stronger together than apart. They were weaker when they operated independently.
- They were more effective in reaching the unchurched when they collaborated.
- They were more stable, biblically and theologically, when they were worked together to provide training and mutual accountability.
- Their collaborative work resulted in multiplication of new disciples and new churches, far exceeding any efforts when they tried to go it alone.
The association was the means through which they worked together. The congregations created the association that organized and gave expression to their cooperative efforts. In today's world we might use the word "network" to describe this togetherness. Although the association had officers and regular meetings distinguishing it from its member churches it was never an entity that functioned apart from the churches that comprised it. Over time these associations organized into state conventions. Eventually, a national denomination was formed out of the various state conventions. But, the main action remained local with the association of churches.
Today, the Region is the entity that embodies and carries forward the intention of churches to work together in association. The Region is not a "denominational organization" off on another planet separate from the churches. Rather, it is an organization OF the churches, consisting of member churches who link arms together to accelerate the cause of Christ through their cooperative work.
Belonging to this association of churches requires mutual investment and commitment by its member churches, pastors and leaders.
Unfortunately, this admirable intention is undermined by two attitudes:
1. Consumerism. This is the attitude that looks to the Region as a remote organization which is in competition with other organizations that dispense goods and services. This is surfaced when someone says, "What has the Region done for us lately?" It's similar to the attitude of the "church shopper" who wants to know what "this church has to offer."
2. Us vs Them. This attitude creates an artificial divide between the local church and the region by failing to recognize the Region as "our organization", our tribe with whom we travel and the friends to whom we are accountable. The counter to this attitude is embracing the view that the region is the broader and larger expression of the church in its cooperative form.
Because of the association of churches and their investment of missions dollars the Region is able to provide multiple resources and opportunities for cooperative ministry. Some examples include:
1. Each church is supported by its sister churches through prayer, encouragement, coaching, training, mentoring and guidance during pastoral transitions. Through the Region connection a local church doesn't minister alone!
2. The pastor doesn't minister alone! Through clergy clusters pastors are invited into a collegial relationship in which they learn together, coach one another and pray together. In our Region these are called Leadership Learning Communities. Each is led by a Region appointed “Region Pastor.”
3. Church transformation resources. One of the greatest needs today is for the local church to be constantly renewed in its pursuit of Christ’s mission. Towards this end the Region offers church assessments, guidance through the church unique process and coaching for church boards and pastors.
4. Leadership development resources including LLCs, the annual Leadership Tune-Up, local gatherings for training (“Tools for the Trade”, Oikos Training, Leadership Styles Training, etc), ethics conference and area meetings.
5. Guiding churches through pastoral transitions including the provision of interims, intentional interims and transitional pastors. Search team consultants are provided for search teams. Candidates are prescreened and recruited.
6. Wide variety of financial advice, church financial reviews and coaching for stewardship campaigns.
7. Church Plants and Restarts. Rather than simply closing churches when they decline to the point of closing we are able to relaunch churches. We continue to look for opportunities to plant new churches and/or assist our churches that are planting.
The Region is owned by the churches and is an expression of the churches in mission. As such it is worthy of your church’s support through missions giving. Let’s keep our association strong as work together to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the great Northwest.