By Kevin L. Smith, President of the Kentucky Baptist Convention
As a pastor, I stand with the 3,500 Baptists in my local church. However, as president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, I stand with 750,000 Baptists in my state convention. We all stand together, united in the mission of Christ. The task before us is great. The spiritual darkness we are encountering in our culture is real. No individual congregation—regardless of size, location, or leadership capacity—can accomplish this task alone. State conventions exist to enhance and expand a congregation’s ability to participate in this disciple-making task. We stand shoulder to shoulder with one desire: to see the Great Commission pursued to the ends of the earth!
The 42 state conventions are the primary relational promoters of cooperative ministry and the Cooperative Program. Perhaps the task of collecting our mission funds doesn’t sound exciting, but it is both necessary and, I would also add, not without biblical precedent. Leaders in both the Old Testament (Moses, Levites) and the New Testament (Paul) coordinated giving efforts to support their mission and to minister to their communities. Baptists have always understood that we can do more together than we ever can individually.
In the last few years, many state conventions have taken the difficult but courageous steps to streamline their support and administrative functions. Trimming these functions doesn’t imply that they were frivolous, but does signal that our conventions are attempting to get more money to missions. State conventions urge our churches, in like manner, to support our national missions offerings—the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering (NAMB) and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (IMB)—as well as specific evangelism efforts in our particular states.
State conventions also have the capacity to pursue ministries that are beyond the ability of individual congregations and beyond the scope of our national mission boards. For example, the media has often recognized the work of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams for their commitment to “loving our neighbor” in times of tragedy or natural disasters. Our beloved “Yellow Hats” are on the scene, assisting those in urgent need, often before government assistance is even available! Many gospel relationships and conversations begin because of these efforts.
In addition to Disaster Relief, state conventions have other distinct ministries that provide opportunities for evangelism. This list just scratches the surface:
- Camps/Retreat Centers – Many Christians begin to follow Christ as students, and a large percentage these students make commitments to Christ in camp settings. The facilities and upkeep of these retreat centers, though, is beyond the scope of any one individual church. State conventions help Baptists pool their resources to keep these opportunities alive.
- Children’s Homes/Orphan Care – State conventions coordinate Baptists’ efforts to love orphans. For example, in Kentucky, we care for over 1,000 abused and neglected children that desire a “forever-family.” The facilities and expenses for these sorts of ministries are usually too cumbersome for most individual congregations.
- Colleges/Universities – Christian higher education is facing some challenging days ahead, so we should be thankful for all the colleges that stand upon biblical fidelity. We should also do everything in our power to equip them to produce our generation’s next Christian leaders. Much of the financial support for these schools comes from the state conventions.
- Church Revitalization and Care for Pastors – Many churches in the United States are plateaued or declining. And most pastors are discouraged, drained, or overwhelmed. Very few organizations target these two concerns, but state conventions specialize in this sort of work.. After all, what good is it if we plant another 10,000 churches if we also see 10,000 pastors walk away from the ministry and another 10,000 churches die? State conventions step in to hold up the arms of weary ministers as they minister to their flocks (Exod 17:12).
The Southern Baptist Convention is all about cooperation for the sake of mission. State conventions help to unite our 46,000+ disparate congregations into one united Southern Baptist disciple-making effort, providing focus and strategy for our churches as they read the missional contexts of their states. Our 14 state conventions in the South also partner with our 28 state conventions outside of the South to pursue evangelism strategies in places that aren’t traditionally considered “Southern Baptist” regions. The state conventions facilitate church planting with NAMB, train people in evangelism, equip pastors and leaders to handle conflict, and offer dozens of other supports for the churches.
The bottom line—our Baptist cooperation, at the state convention level, allows the majority of our churches to experience a capacity of ministry and mission that is well beyond their individual ability. That’s the entire point of the state conventions—to serve our churches by equipping the churches. Together, even though we live in different states and serve in thousands of different churches, we can stand as one, impacting our society with the life-changing message about the person and work of Jesus Christ.