An the joy of being the new boy in town! Today I went to my first minister's fraternal. Fortunately I was one of three new kids, so it wasn't quite as difficult and awkward as being the only person no one else knows!
For those who don't know, a minister's fraternal is a gathering of denominationally linked church leaders who sometimes have little more in common than they serve in the same denomination. You can get wide variations in churchmanship and theology, and you are never quite sure whether you're really supposed to say what you've just said or not.
Me, well maybe I'm just getting to old to worry about such things, so I dive in feet first and say what's on my heart. And then worry later!
Anyway I got to meet some of my local colleagues, which was good, and to listen to interesting thoughts about associating and relationships. Which raised, and continues to raise, the question that's come up over and over again at such meetings: How exactly do we relate? Maybe we should be asking why rather than how. If we could answer the first satisfactorily maybe the second would follow naturally.
The truth is that despite our best intentions and sometimes our best efforts, association life for many baptist churches remains peripheral. Perhaps we've bought into a culture of individualism, perhaps a baptist gathering is too diverse for many of today's Christians. They pick and choose the flavour of what they want. sometimes that will be Soul Survivor, sometimes Hillsongs, sometimes something else. It's not based on a denominational identity but a tribal identity focussed on musical styles, approaches to worship and ministry, even mission emphases.
So if I'm going to be truthful I don't know where I stand on local association life. Assemblies don't usually make it to my essential event list but on the other hand I value being a part of a denomination that gives me the room and freedom to discover my shape and the shape of the church I lead in the context of my local community and not some amorphous national identity.