FENTON, MI – One of my first experiences as a follower of Jesus with our larger Baptist family was at Bambi Lake. The Genesee Baptist Association scheduled a winter youth retreat. Students from churches all over Genesee County packed the retreat center for an incredible weekend of worship, fellowship, and fun. Our youth group (First Baptist Church of Swartz Creek) was scheduled to present the plan of salvation in one of the sessions. I remember getting the assignment to lead none other than Dr. Tony Lynn to Jesus (I got to baptize him too, but that's another story). I had only been a believer for a few months, but I accepted the challenge. There in the downstairs chapel of the Lodge at Bambi, I shared the Gospel with Tony. To be totally transparent, he had to help me get through parts of the presentation, but I did ok for a new believer.
That retreat made an impression on my life. It was encouraging to see scores of other teen-aged believers together. God was moving in our lives as we gathered around His Word and worshipped. I learned that the retreat happened because local churches worked together through their association to plan the event. Our youth group wasn't big enough to put together a retreat like that on our own. I doubt that any of the other churches were able to do so either, but together they did an awesome job. A sense of community and mission was established as sister churches worked together. It was the first of countless times I experienced an association at work.
I learned quickly that sharing Christ was at the heart of bringing churches together in associational life. The Genesee association asked me to share my personal testimony at an event they planned. It was scheduled for the night of my 18th birthday. I had been looking forward to that day for many years. It meant no more sneaking around, fake ID's, or having to get someone to buy for me. On the night that I became "legal", I stood before a packed church and shared how I came to Christ. Jesus dramatically changed my life and I wanted everyone to know Him. It was the first of many evangelistic emphases I have participated in with other associational churches.
God called me to preach as I neared the end of high school. In my college and seminary days, I had a lot more enthusiasm than experience or knowledge. The English Baptist Church called me as their pastor. It wasn't long before there was a death in the church family, and I got a call asking me to officiate the funeral service. If memory serves me, the only funeral I had ever been to at that time was my grandmother's when I was twelve. I had no clue what to do or say, so I called a retired pastor who was serving as the Director of Missions for our local association. He gave me an outline for the service, scriptures to use, and some helps for the message. Years later, I got a similar call from a young pastor needing help for one of his first funeral services. I learned early in ministry that the local association connected me to people who could help me and people I could help. Some of the most practical and beneficial training I've experienced has been in the association.
The local association is a champion for missions to our churches. It was the local association that gave me the opportunity to really interact with some Southern Baptist Missionaries. The churches we served faithfully supported missions through the Cooperative Program. We read stories about our missionaries and prayed for them during our mission emphases. There were hundreds of them, but we didn't really get to know one until our association had a World Mission's Conference. The church planned special services so we could hear from North American, International, State, and Associational Missionaries. We listened as they told stories about their ministries, shared meals together, and transported them to other churches to speak. I can still remember the first time one of them asked, "Have you ever considered missions?" I hadn't, but the question immediately grabbed Shar's heart (my wife).
The association brought missionaries to our churches, and God used them to speak to our lives. For many of us, it made missions come alive. We felt the heartbeat of God for a lost world as they shared. They challenged us to pray more fervently, give more generously, and serve more willingly. Our lives have been forever impacted by the association and their work with local churches. We are living proof of just how valuable the association is to the local church yesterday, today and for tomorrow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Durbin is the State Evangelism Director for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before joining the state convention staff, Mike served as Church Planting Catalyst and Director of Missions in Metro Detroit since 2007. He also has served as a pastor and bi-vocational pastor in Michigan, as well as International Missionary to Brazil.