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By Darren Casper, Director of Plant Midwest and Associate Executive Director of the Saint Louis Metro Baptist Association

A few years ago I was sitting in a fourth story apartment in the heart of a very prominent city in the Middle East. Inside that apartment were a few other American pastors like myself who were exploring potential partnerships in that part of the world. Also present were several IMB personnel, as well as leaders from other GCC (Great Commission Christian) organizations.

We had gathered together to discuss a strategy for reaching the city, but we spent almost all of our time together praying. In a secluded upper room of a key global city, I was privileged to witness leaders from different organizations passionately crying out to God for the lost. Little did I know it at the time, but that prayer meeting taught me a lot about what my future would like back in the United States. Just a few short years later, I would be serving as an Associate Director in our association—and, eventually, as the Executive Director of a church planting network called Plant Midwest. And the lessons I learned from that one prayer meeting would continue to impact my ministry.

The more I reflect on that pivotal prayer meeting in the Middle East, the more I became convinced of the significance of our SBC local associations. Local associations possess a strength, a passion, and an opportunity distinct from any other form of denominational life. If we can continue to follow the example of the leaders I met in the Middle East, we will see God do some amazing things here.

Here are four things I remember about that prayer meeting and how these continue to shape the work in our local association:

1. These leaders knew their city uniquely.

I am not talking about numbers, statistics, and demographics. These guys knew the hot spots, where things were happening. They knew the people, the culture, the beauty of the city. This is true of the planters, pastors, and missional leaders in a local association. They know their city better than anyone. This is a unique strength.

2. These leaders were committed to coming together to pray for their city.

They didn’t have to commute for days or even multiple hours. This was their city. They lived there, worked there, considered it home. And because of their shared geographic location, meeting together for prayer regularly was realistically possible. This wasn’t about the city they were from. It wasn’t about some strategic city they wished they were in. This was about their city, and asking God to move in that city to start a movement throughout the Middle East. A local association can have that same kind of unique passion for its city, a passion that can spread to an entire region.

3. These leaders had a strategy for reaching the lost of their city.

Vision follows prayer, and strategy follows vision. Leaders who love Jesus, love their city/region, and come together for prayer can’t help but get a God-sized vision for their city. You can’t manufacture God’s vision. You can’t dream it up on a whiteboard. You can, however, put yourself in a position to receive that vision from God. He gives the vision when the people committed to the area come together in unified, believing, Spirit-filled prayer.

4. These leaders were a team.

Wow, was this powerful! In that prayer meeting, there was no posturing for personal platform or gain. There were no power plays, no big egos driving the discussion. There was, instead, a unified team of people who were about one thing–God’s kingdom being advanced in their city. It wasn’t about any one person, church, or denomination. It was about seeing the gospel of Jesus Christ advance for the Father’s glory.

These four lessons have had a profound impact on our work in our city. They continue to stir the fire of God within me as I dream about what our local associations can accomplish. If we come together as a team, pray for our cities, and get to know the people we’re trying to reach, I have no doubt that we will see God something spectacular. If we will stand firm in the truth of the gospel and lean on the power of the Spirit—as our friends did in the Middle East—then the greatest days of significance and opportunity for the local association do not lie behind us, but ahead of us.

Darren grew up in a small town deep in Southern Illinois; his Boomer Sooner wife Kelli, in Oklahoma. They have been married twenty-four years and have lived in the St. Louis area for that entire time. They have planted two churches together in St. Louis, one in the county and one in the south city neighborhood of Bevo Mill. Darren has personally been involved in missions and church planting in ten different countries throughout the world. Kelli is a principal at Mullanphy Elementary (St. Louis Public Schools) in the Shaw Neighborhood. They have two teenage sons, Jordan and Zac. Darren is a graduate of Southwest Baptist University and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Apart from his love for Christ, God’s church, and his family, Darren enjoys college sports, golf, hunting, and watching Indy Cars racing at 220+ mph.