Jerry Joplin: More gets done when churches labor together

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Jerry Joplin has been the director of missions for the Lubbock Area Baptist Association since 2014. From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on ministry and the church. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.

Background 

Where else have you worked, and what were your positions?

  • Pastor, First Baptist Church, Lillian, Texas from 1988–1993
  • Pastor, First Baptist Church, Clyde, Texas from 1993–2002
  • Pastor, Bacon Heights Baptist Church, Lubbock, Texas from 2002–2014

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Brownfield, Texas.

How did you come to faith in Christ?

I came to faith in Christ as a 9-year-old through the testimony of grandparents, parents and First Baptist folk.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

  • BA, Hardin-Simmons University, 1981
  • Master in Counseling and Human Development, Hardin-Simmons University, 1984
  • Master of Divinity, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1992
  • Doctor of Ministry, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1998

Ministry/Profession

Why do you feel called to your particular vocation?

I was called out of the pastorate to this position because God put in my heart a passion to see God’s kingdom impacted through partnerships. It is a fact that churches can do more together than they can on their own. I desire to be a facilitator of that reality.

Please tell us about your association—where it’s located, the key focus of its work and ministry, etc.

There are 108 churches who make up the [Lubbock Area Baptist Association, or the] “Association of Partnering Churches.”These churches are scattered over the South Plains, New Mexico and Kansas. The office for the association is located in Lubbock, Texas.

The focus of the association is collaboration between churches. I like to say that right in the middle of collaboration is “labor.”

Truth: it is work for churches to choose to link hands to labor together. In most circumstances, it is easier to go it alone. However, for the glory of our Lord, it is certainly worth collaborating because more gets done when churches labor together.

The phrase a person hears often around the Lubbock Area Baptist Association that expresses the focus is “grab a corner of the blanket.” It is from Mark 2, where four men grabbed a corner of a stretcher of a paralytic and with urgent, passionate faith carried him to the roof of a house to lower him before Jesus.

Leighton Ford in The Christian Persuaderstates, “Somebody had to pay for that roof. No one ever comes to Jesus unless someone pays for the roof.” When churches collaborate together more lost souls are carried to Jesus.

What is that price paid in associational life? Churches must be stakeholders. In our association, we call it the “1-percent stakeholder investment” that directly affects the actions and success of the association.

There are three areas churches are asked to hold the stake.

  • The first is prayer. What if every association church spent at least one percent of their corporate prayer time interceding for sister churches?
  • Then there is a time investment. What if all churches spent one percent of their missions and ministries serving with another church?
  • The final area is finances. For clarification, this is not what a church sends to support the LABA budget but what it puts as a line item in its yearly budget to be used specifically for collaboration.

If churches will spend at least one percent of their church life investing in these three stakeholder areas, kingdom impact would increase significantly.

What do you like best about leading your association? Why?

I like the fact that the Lubbock Area Baptist Association is attempting to break out of the old traditional model and do something unique and different. The truth is, it is really not that new. The first churches that formed associations 300 years ago chose to partner because they knew they had not just to survive but to thrive. I love to come along beside pastors and churches in this journey to thrive.

The associational staff has five stairsteps of strategic action to encourage and assist churches in thriving.

  • The foundational step is to be found faithful in all things.
  • The second step is to be a facilitator of intercessory prayer among churches.
  • The third step is to facilitate health in pastors and churches. An unhealthy pastor or church will be consumed by their unhealthiness.
  • The next step is to foster partnerships. The associational staff does not create partnerships—churches must own them—but serves as a conduit so partnerships can be formed and successful.
  • The final and most important step is to be a conduit of the spreading of the gospel.

Partnerships are not the ultimate goal but the means to the goal. The goal is more souls saved.

What aspects of associational ministry and/or its mission do you wish more people understood?

I wish more people understood that when a person speaks of an association, he/she is speaking about churches, not an office or staff. The office staff of the Lubbock Area Baptist Association is not the association.

This false mentality breeds disconnect and devaluing of the work of our association. When the question is asked, “What is the association doing,” the answer is to look at what churches are doing together within the association. It is a totally different question to ask, “What is the staff of the association doing and providing.” 

How has your association and its mission changed since you began your career?

The association has down-sized to expand. The structure and organization of the association has gotten smaller. The association now only has four committees that meet once a year in person. The expansion has come in the desire and challenge for churches to see themselves as the association and choose to engage in working side-by-side to achieve more for our king.

How do you expect your association and/or its mission to change in the next 10 to 20 years?

In the future, I think the number of associations will decline. At the same time, I think the size of the associations will increase both in geographical makeup and number of churches.

More and more churches and pastors will see the writing on the wall that they cannot go it alone. Churches and ministers need each other, not necessarily for information or training or doctrinal purity, but for companionship.

It is getting lonely out there, and the need to associate will become more and more important.

Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your association.

  • To help rural and older congregations to revitalize and start reaching a new generation.
  • To help larger and younger congregations to see the value of associational life as it relates to the big picture and to be a stakeholder.
  • How to effectively and efficiently help and encourage the bi-vocational minister.

What one aspect of your job gives you the greatest joy or fulfillment?

To see churches buying into the vision and choosing to collaborate for greater impact.

About Baptists

What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?

We must see other evangelical churches as potential partners and not the competition. Churches must be willing to link up with non-Baptist churches that have the same desire to impact God’s kingdom through people being saved. This is done by setting aside secondary theological differences.

The lostness in society today is bigger than we are. If we can agree on the major issues in reference to Christ, let’s labor together.

About Jerry

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

Colossians 1:27—“Christ in you, the hope of glory”

Whether my day is filled with joy or difficulty, I desire to lean in on the reality of the hope, certainty and full confidence that Jesus Christ dwells within me. The sustaining constant is the hope I have in Christ through it all into eternity, which should motivate love and faith in the now. 

Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?

As I get older and find myself in my current ministry, it is Caleb who inspires me. He was a faithful companion and supporter of Joshua for many years. He was willing to take the second seat for most of his ministry. Then, in Joshua 14, we find him at 85 years old, still desiring to achieve and accomplish great things for his God. He exclaimed, “Give me that mountain.”

As I turn down the home stretch of my life, I desire to be a Caleb and continue to climb for the glory of my Savior. May I be found faithful. Paul put it to Timothy, “I have finished the race and kept the faith.” I want to be a finisher and a keeper.

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