Monday, April 3, 2017

UBA: an antifragile association

Human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension.

Rumors and riots intensify when someone tries to repress them.

While some people and institutions are crushed by crisis, others actually get stronger and better.  Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls the capacity to respond to stress, tension and crisis by getting better (not caving in or just getting through) being antifragile. “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”  That, I believe, is the legacy of UBA.


The UBA staff took two days at the end of last month to go to Trinity Pines Conference Center for a staff retreat.  (If you haven’t been lately, you owe it to yourself and your group to hold an event at TPCC.  It is a stellar facility that gets better every year!)

We wanted to welcome Keelan Cook, our newest staff member, and introduce him to UBA history and culture.  We spent most of an afternoon telling him the UBA story from 1990 (most of the staff started in the late 80s and early 90s) until the present.

We talked about our two major transitions—from the traditional association structure to a church-consulting model that focused on strengthening churches and training leaders and then from the church-consulting model to a missional strategist model focused on mobilizing church to reach the lost and plant new churches.

We shared stories that highlighted our values around people, diversity, innovation, excellence, revelation, results and cooperation.

We talked about some of our challenges we've faced through the years—and there have been many.

  • In the late 90s a second state Baptist convention formed and there was pressure to choose one convention over the other.  We resisted the pressure and work with both state conventions.
  • In 2001 a series of events rocked our country and Houston in particular—the economic recession in the spring, Tropical Storm Allison in June (the worst natural disaster ever to hit Houston), terrorism and the events of 9/11, and the collapse of Enron in the fall.  
  • A number of Spanish-speaking churches pulled away from UBA and formed a new association in 2003.
  • Then there was the Great Recession of 2008-09, the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression!  Churches struggled financially and when churches struggle, so does UBA.  
  • In the last few years the role of the association in Baptist life has been questioned (as has the role of state conventions) causing some to wonder if associations (or state conventions) are even necessary any more.

As the team told the stories of high points and low points I noticed this:  every time there was a crisis, the UBA staff didn’t just adapt…we got better!   For example, when Tropical Storm Allison hit Houston, UBA offices were completed destroyed.  Thousands of homes were destroyed.  Nearly 100 of our churches were damaged or destroyed as well.  Rather than focusing on our own crisis, the staff spent the next few months helping our churches and others recover while we worked out of our cars and homes.

Over the door of the Staunton Harold Church in Leicestershire, England, is this inscription:
“In the yeare: 1653 when all things sacred were throughout ye nation either demollisht or profaned Sr Robert Shirley Barronet Founded this Church whose singular praise it is to have done the best things in ye worst times And hoped them in the most calamitous.”

I mentioned Sir Robert Shirley and the inscription many, many times during some of our most difficult days.  Now, hearing the staff tell their stories I was reminded that we actually lived up to that aspiration.  Or, as Nassim Taleb might say, we became antifragile.

Driving home after the retreat I reflected again on how special the UBA team is and how glad I am that God led me to serve on the associational staff.  I'm proud of who we are, how we've conducted our selves and the work we do ... and I have every confidence our legacy will continue well into the future.

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