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From KY Today: The Goal & Scope of Associational Work

The Central Kentucky Network of Baptists has a rich heritage of Baptist partnership and cooperation for Kingdom work. Since its inception in 1785, when it was then known as the Elkhorn Baptist Association, the CKNB has proudly served as Kentucky's first association of Baptists. Today, the work goes on, uniting 100 churches in Central Kentucky in purpose and partnership. Realizing we can do more together than we can ever do apart, we celebrate the diversity of ministry, context, personality and history represented across our association. We believe associational life is an important aspect of gospel work in our world today, just as in 1785.

Recently, KBC Executive Director - Treasurer, posted an article on the significance of Associational work among Southern Baptists. As our own association is in the midst of a time of assessment for the future, we thought it helpful to share Dr. Gray's perspective on the important work Associations are called to embrace...


Southern Baptists have formed lots of cooperating networks. Whether state conventions, national entities, state agencies and institutions, we have lots of them and God has honored our efforts at working together.  

One example of our networking prowess is the local Baptist association. Baptist associations started in America in the early 1700s with the first one formed in Philadelphia in 1707. The earliest Kentucky Baptist association was the Elkhorn Baptist Association (now the Central Kentucky Network), constituted on Sept. 30, 1785. The Salem Association was born the following month with many others soon to follow. These associations were formed around a common belief system and our shared value of advancing the gospel through cooperation.  

Kentucky Baptists have long believed we are better together and can accomplish more Great Commission work when we are doing so in cooperation with sister churches working toward the same goal. We are not opposed to those who advance the gospel more independently — we just don’t think it is as effective.  

But what about local associations today? Our current culture is re-evaluating all our cooperative efforts to decide if it is something we want to continue. Here are some benefits of local Baptist associations: 

1. Gospel advancement 

Most associations will do something in their calendar year to advance the gospel in their county or community. Whether it is a “Love Loud” event in the Pike Association, or “Camp Cadiz” in the Little River Association, or an associational crusade which several Kentucky Baptist associations have done, they are organizing the churches to share Jesus in their broader community. 

2. Life-shaping fellowship

My associational experience included friendships with other pastors and leaders in the area who influenced my life. I was influenced by Pastor O.D. Boyd, George Major and Mark Johnson in the Little River Association. I also developed lifelong friendships with Nick Sandefur, Reed Shepherd and Bradley Cornelius in the Christian County Association. I was challenged in evangelism by Darrell Crawford and encouraged by the faithful ministry of men like Larry Wilson. God has used these association-connected interactions to shape me for service to others.  

3. Doing big projects

Southern Baptist cooperation stems from the biblical idea that God’s people are at their best when we are working together. Nehemiah 4:6 highlights this concept as it comments on the progress of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem: “So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.” When God’s people have a mind to work and a heart to work together, we can build things such as Disaster Relief Ministry, associational food services, counseling programs and much more. While it would be more challenging for a single church to build some of these things, it can be done more easily with several churches working together.  

4. Planting and replanting healthy churches

Southern Baptists have a national entity that focuses on church planting — the North American Mission Board. Kentucky Baptists have a state convention that provides support and direction for that same work here in Kentucky. However, without taking anything away from our national or state work, we know that church planting and replanting is most healthy when it emerges from the collective prayers and labor of a local association of churches. When an association gets an underserved community on its heart and begins to pray corporately about reaching that community then great things happen. We saw this in the Little River Baptist Association in Trigg County when we prayed together, surveyed a community, saw a need and gave for the work of the now-strong Ponderosa Baptist Church.  

5. Strengthening local leaders

I vividly remember sitting in my study as a pastor at a time when I was discouraged beyond what I thought I could bear and receiving a call from my associational leader. I broke down emotionally on the phone as he was the only person in my life at that time with whom I could confide about what was happening in our congregation. God used him and other associational leaders in my life at critical times of need.  

In these challenging days in which we are called to live and minister and advance the gospel, we do not need fewer gospel partners — we need more. The local Baptist association can be a place where the above-mentioned work and more can happen.  

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