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Looking Back with Thanksgiving and Forward with Faith

BMA Lobby LogoBy Steve Crawley, Lifeword Executive Director
From Mission:World November/December 2014

Recently an elderly pastor within the Baptist Missionary Association (BMA) of America visited the new headquarters building in Conway, Arkansas. He reminisced about a conversation he had with a group of pastors some forty years earlier regarding associational work. “If our departments could work together more closely, we could be so much more effective in helping our churches,” they concluded. After touring the facility and discussing the new vision, he commented, “I’m more excited about the work of the BMA today than I have ever been in my entire ministry!”

As we look back with thanksgiving for the labor and toil of those who came before us, we look forward with faith as God directs us into a new chapter of associational work. It is thrilling to see how God is invigorating our associated efforts. Churches and departments are collaborating like never before to fulfill the Great Commission.

Looking Back With Thanksgiving

We look back with thanksgiving for the provisions of God and for the many men and women who gave their lives in service to our Lord. Our predecessors understood the power of churches working together and encouraged a spirit of cooperation from the genesis of the association. The BMA Statement of Principles of Cooperation asserts that the purpose of the BMA of America is to “provide cooperating departments and agencies that will inspire a mission vision and assist each local church in carrying out the Great Commission.” We are grateful for the vision of cooperation that has laid a firm foundation upon which we can build.

Historically, organizational life cycles follow a predictable pattern – progress, plateau, and decline. The BMA is no different from any other organization. Looking back on the history of the association, as shared when we originally cast the Vision for the Future plan, reveals some periods of distinction.

The origin of the BMAA dates back to May 25, 1950, when dedicated men and women representing 465 churches met at Temple Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas and stepped out with courage and faith to form a new association. By 1970, the BMA of America had birthed departments or agencies that encompassed various facets of ministry including missions, publications, education, research and public relations, chaplaincy, youth, and media.

By 1970, the association had grown from 465 churches to approximately 1,500 and, according to Dr. John Duggar in his book on the history of the BMA, the “forward thrust seems to have been greater from 1971 to 1980 than in previous decades.” This period of expansion was marked by significant increases in financial contributions from the churches, resulting in new mission fields, new publications, and new departments. There were more denominational workers than ever before by the end of the decade, and the associational work seemed to be “getting bigger and better.” Key highlights during the period of expansion and plateau were the number of baptisms reported for the years 1969-1978, which averaged 10,206 annually. Dr. Duggar noted in his historical account of the association that the BMA reached a point of maturity during this era.

As the association came to a point of maturation in the mid to late 1980s, a period of decline—as with any organization—would follow. The number of reported baptisms during the last decade of the century decreased by 70%, 41% of new mission projects disbanded, and less than half of the churches surveyed in 2010 were intentional in their disciple-making efforts. As with any organization in decline, short of a catalytic event to halt the downward trend, the situation was not likely to improve.

Yet we are thankful to God for raising up pastors, laypeople, and other leaders willing to meet these challenges head on. Over the last decade, there has been a concerted effort to increase the level of cooperation among BMA churches and entities. Beginning with the departmental restructuring effort in 2004 and culminating with the Vision for the Future approved in 2013, we are now witnessing God’s invigoration of the associated work with a “fresh wind and fresh fire!”

Recent Developments

A major obstacle limiting cooperation in the past has been departments working from separate locations, often with a unilateral vision. Phase one of the departmental integration effort, which was approved by the churches in 2013, removed this obstacle. The staffs of BMA Missions, BMAA Foundation, DiscipleGuide (approved in 2014), and Lifeword now work from the same facility in Conway, Arkansas. What was once a dream is now a reality. This strategic move provides departments and agencies a state of the art facility to serve our churches. Simultaneously, the on-going operating cost structures for each entity will be lower by sharing employees where applicable as well as fixed overhead costs.

Another obstacle has been the lack of a centralized entity to facilitate shared costs among cooperating departments. The first phase of the integration process has also removed this obstacle with the creation of the BMA America Limited Liability Company (LLC). The BMA America LLC is owned by the departments of the association and provides a way to classify shared costs, employees, and assets. The jointly owned headquarter facility in Conway will be held within the LLC, and each department’s ownership will be proportionate with its level of investment.

This centralization effort maintains the distinction of separate, autonomous departments while providing a structure of optimal efficiency. The LLC is not a department or agency, and all costs of the entity are allocated to the departments or agencies where applicable. Shared overhead and employee costs are budgeted within each department based on standard costs; actual costs are then allocated based on the actual work performed. Thus, only costs associated with a department’s or an agency’s activities are charged to that entity and reported in its financial statements. For full transparency, independent auditors will review the transactions of the LLC annually.

In 2014, the churches of the BMA approved the formation of a new agency of the association – BMAA Foundation. This agency provides a venue for members of churches within the BMA to help fund Great Commission efforts in perpetuity. Foundation Executive Charles Attebery is leading this agency and the planned giving initiative. Within the past year alone, 2.2 million dollars was committed to the work of BMA entities through the planned giving initiative, and this is just the tip of the iceberg when one considers the compounded impact such a program will have in years to come.

Someone once said, “Information is the life blood of any organization.” For the first time in our history, the BMA now provides constituents with an informational magazine that highlights the entire work of the association. Produced in house, the magazine’s contents are aimed at keeping church members informed about our joint efforts of reaching the world for Christ. Additionally, for the first time the BMA has a website that is perpetually updated to keep churches informed about the ministries in real time.

Looking Forward With Faith

Just as our predecessors stepped out in faith 64 years ago, we must step out in faith today. The first phase of integration focused on establishing a shared facility and developing an efficient operating structure. We are thankful that God has provided the means for us to achieve our initial goals. However, if accomplishing these objectives is the extent of our vision, our level of effectiveness will be greatly compromised. The first phase of the integration effort was simply a step to provide the operating platform necessary to accomplish the second phase – strategic alignment. We do not know where this effort will lead but look forward with faith, trusting the Lord to direct our path.

To begin the second phase of integration, the departments and agencies of the BMA of America will come together to engage in formal strategic planning. We intend for this exercise to be perpetual and fluid. The purpose of the effort will be to address some of the challenges faced during our period of decline. We also hope to design a cohesive ministry plan with each entity working together in concert with the others to assist BMA churches in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Departmental leaders acknowledge that our churches do not exist for the departments; the departments exist for the churches. A part of the process will involve engaging in research that will provide a basis to develop innovative ways to assist churches in their quest to minister within their locales. Moreover, the departments will also continue to assist churches in their quest to make disciples of the nations.

As we look back, we are thankful for God’s providence and for the foundation our forefathers provided in the past. As we look forward, we walk by faith with an aura of anticipation about where God will take us in the future. Echoing the sentiments of the pastor quoted earlier, “I am more excited than ever about the work of the BMA of America!” In this season of Thanksgiving and celebration, may we pause to express gratitude to our sovereign Lord for what He has done and for what He is going to do.

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