We don't see trees grow or notice ourselves aging each day, but these things happen. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes only when viewed through the lens of time. But things change.
Associations, like trees, change, grow, develop over time. Take UBA, for example. UBA has gone through three distinct stages in her 170 history (yes, UBA was begun in 1840 and is 170 years old this year).
UBA 1.0 -- In the beginning was the church, or churches to be more accurate. Three churches joined together to form Union Baptist Association. Associations were formed for several reasons: to promote Baptist understanding of doctrine and Baptist church polity [our Baptist identity], to provide fellowship, to encourage starting new churches and to promote benevolent work.
When UBA began there were no national or state conventions and no agencies. They came later. As they developed, the focus shifted from the association and the local church to conventions and agencies. This led to the next stage of associational life for associations.
UBA 2.0 -- As national agencies developed, the focus shifted from the local church to the state convention and national agency. National agencies began developing programs to be implemented by churches all across the convention. Baptist churches became standardized. It didn't matter if your church was in California or the Carolinas, it was like virtually every other Baptist church. Local associations became implementers of national programs at the local level. The primary purpose of the association was to help produce good Baptists.
Houston is a city of entrepreneurs. Innovation, creativity and risk-taking are accepted, even encouraged and highly rewarded. The leaders of UBA reflect the spirit of Houston. UBA helped start two major universities -- Baylor and Houston Baptist, Memorial Baptist Hospital (today part of the Memorial-Hermann system), Center for Counseling before Christian counseling was well-established, Union Baptist Foundation for starting churches, Baptist Mission Centers and Trinity Pines Conference Center. So it's no surprise that when church life began changing in the late 80s and early 90s, UBA began to change.
UBA 3.0 -- UBA transitioned from being a promoter of Baptist programs to a team of consultants for churches and community transformation in the mid 90s. Rick Warren once referred to UBA as transitioning from being a program-driven association to a purpose-driven association. UBA led the way in leadership development with programs like Young Leaders (later LeadersEdge) which was duplicated in associations across the country, church planting and community transformation. Mission Houston grew directly out of the community transformation initiative of UBA.
Beginning in 1965, Houston began to change dramatically. Prior to 1965 almost everyone that immigrated to the United States came from the British Isles and northern Europe. That meant they were predominantly white and Protestant, Catholic or Jew. American immigration laws changed in 1965 and the face (literally) of America has dramatically changed since, with Houston leading the way in this new diversity.
Houston has transitioned from being a bi-racial Southern city (1960) to being one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in America. We've identified about 350 different ethnolinguistic people groups in Houston with 215 languages spoken. Four out of ten people living in Houston will not speak in English when they go home tonight. There are more Hispanics living in Harris County today than the total population of Harris County in 1960!
The folks moving into our neighborhoods from around the world are no longer predominantly white, Protestant or Jew. Many will be Catholic (often a syncretized version of Catholicism). More likely they will be Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, animist, or of no religious faith whatsoever. This provides the greatest opportunity for world missions at a local level we have ever known. While our forefathers learned about missions in a study group, we can learn by doing it firsthand in our city. This is one of several reasons it may be time for UBA 4.0.
What might the next iteration of Union Baptist Association, what I'm calling UBA 4.0, look like? That's yet to be determined, but I believe it must focus on our Great Commission responsibilities.
Peter Drucker said every organization must answer two questions: what business are you in? and how's business? I believe churches are in the Great Commission business. We are in the business of making disciples of all peoples. If that's true, then how's business? (I addressed this a bit in my previous blog "A Parable Inverted.") The short answer is this -- "not good!"
If the Great Commission is the church's primary task, and if we are not doing that job very well, and if it is the function of the association to assist the church in fulfilling it's purpose, then maybe it's time for us to rethink the purpose and function of the association.
I continue to wonder what would happen if the association, UBA or any association, saw as it's primary purpose to mobilize churches to take on lostness - intentionally and persistently.
I think it's time for UBA 4.0. What do you think? Feel free to post your comments.