Where are the words to express all I would like to tell you about my trip to the 2011 meeting of the Baptist Missionary Association of America (BMAA)? I’ve posted a few videos online that I hoped would provide some of the people who have never attended an associational meeting a glimpse of what happens at these meetings, but the videos I posted can hardly do it justice. Lifeword and the BMAA Missions Department will be posting better quality videos in the coming days, but even with the excellent quality Lifeword always has in their videos, I don’t believe they can capture the spirit of the meeting. This is partly because so much of what makes these meetings special happens outside of the scheduled sessions of the meeting.
I’ve been attending BMAA meetings since I was knee high to a grasshopper. I missed a few during my high school and college years and I don’t think my parents started going until I was about one or two. I was three at the first meeting I remember attending, so I have some idea of what to expect at these meetings. It’s pointless to try to decide if this is the best BMAA meeting I’ve attended because they are all different and yet it seem inadequate to just say that it was a good meeting. What does “a good meeting” mean to those of you who haven’t attended these meetings? Without a common frame of reference, I’m not sure it has any meaning at all. So let me try to explain in a way we can all understand.
What’s the Purpose of the Meeting?
You wouldn’t be wrong if you said that the purpose of the BMAA annual meeting is to conduct business, but it would leave people thinking these meetings are like a church business meeting that is extended over a period of three or more days. These meetings are nowhere near that boring. You wouldn’t be wrong if you said these meetings were a time to worship our Lord and to fellowship together—that certainly takes place—but the BMAA has better designed meetings for that purpose. DiscipleGuide has several conferences every year, including those for senior adults, pastors, and youth. You wouldn’t be wrong if you said these meetings are to provide information to the churches. That also takes place, but if we relied on these meetings as the sole source of information, many of our churches would be uninformed. And we can’t really say that these meetings are about decision making. The BMAA does too much for every decision to be made during one meeting.
Point the Ship in the Right Direction
When the messengers of the various churches attend the BMAA annual meeting and vote, what they are doing is providing direction and accountability to the departments of the BMAA. And though much more happens at these meetings, we must not lose sight of the fact that the primary reason for these meetings is for our churches to have the opportunity to adjust the rudder of this great ship we call the Baptist Missionary Association of America.
For the past few years, I’ve been actively involved with the Baptist Music Fellowship of America (BMF), which is an auxiliary of the BMAA that handles much of the music during the meeting. I got involved with the BMF because for a long time they put together a choir each year and we would sing before the annual sermon. It is disappointing that the schedule for the meetings no longer allows for that and I heard some frustration during the BMF meeting that the worship services aren’t more structured, but we’re music guys. We want the music and worship during the meeting to be the best it can be. Give us a chance and we’ll make the worship services better, but that’s not the primary purpose of these meetings.
I’ve heard some people who are disappointed that there hasn’t been very much discussion in recent years and other people who are glad that there hasn’t been so much discussion. I’ve found that discussion is good, but an abundance of discussion doesn’t necessarily mean that things are being well considered. I’ve found that harmony is good, but a lack of discussion doesn’t necessarily mean that things are harmonious. But when the committees and departments give their reports to the messengers each year, they are held accountable for their actions. Those who follow the direction the churches wish them to follow are rewarded by the continued support of the churches. But when the move away from the will of the churches, their recommendations are rejected and the people serving in those positions are replaced with people who are willing to go the direction the churches want our association to go. Without these meetings, there would be little accountability and no opportunity for the churches to provide direction.
So What’s a Good Meeting?
This year I left Wichita Falls saying that it is an exciting time to be a part of the BMAA. There are things that we need to do better. There are things that we’re not sure how to do better. But I left the meeting with the belief that we’re heading in the right direction. I’m excited about what lies in front of the BMAA. In the meeting hall, we heard the various departments talking about what they are doing to in their efforts to carry the gospel to the world. We heard them talk about a renewed effort to focus on what they can do to help the churches carry out the Great Commission rather than the churches relying on them as their Great Commission proxy. We enjoyed great music and preaching.
All that was great, but it was more than that. Step into the corridors and committee rooms for a moment. Sit down in the restaurants of Wichita Falls for a few minutes. Listen to the people who didn’t stand at the mikes or get up on stage and you’ll hear them talking about what they are doing in their churches. And what you’ll hear is exciting, because you’ll hear of prison ministries and outreach ministries and teaching ministries. The BMAA isn’t the largest association (not even close). The BMAA isn’t without its challenges. The BMAA isn’t well known by those outside our ranks. But I left the meeting in Wichita Falls with the belief that we’re headed in the right direction and there are many churches among us who are willing to work. The road ahead isn’t an easy one and though the departments have a desire to help our churches, there isn’t a simple solution that doesn’t require the churches to put in even more effort if they want to see growth. But when you leave a meeting with the feeling that the churches and departments of the BMAA are anxious to go to work, that’s a good meeting.
I’m excited about the future of the BMAA. Christianity in America is trending in the wrong direction, but I see those in the BMAA who are willing to put in the effort required to turn that around. I don’t know when or if that trend will be turned. It don’t know if the Lord will use the BMAA to turn that trend around or merely to slow the trend, but I see great things ahead for the BMAA.