What are the first things on your mind when you first wake up? I clearly remember the first morning after each of my boys slept solidly through the night. As many parents do, my wife and I woke up after our unspoiled night’s sleep rested and terrified that something terrible had happened in the night.
After confirming that our child was alive, taking a deep breath of thanks and satisfaction, we allowed ourselves to dream about what life might be like on future mornings after many more good nights of sleep. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think either boy slept all the way through the next night.
Metaphorically, when the staff of UBA get moving in the morning, there are a few core convictions that put steam in our step. Behind our values, our mission, our vision, and our day to day activities, these are our rally points and our resting positions.
We believe churches are better together.
And we believe that for a variety of reasons.
We believe pastors and ministers are better together, because ministry is hard and frequently the only people who understand everything that goes into it are the people who are doing it. We believe that when pastors and ministers have places where they can pray for one another, crack jokes, commiserate, and support one another, churches are stronger and better ministry is the result.
We believe churches must work together to accomplish the Great Commission. The evidence is overwhelming. Houston has more than 4,000 churches, and among them are some of the most evangelistic and well-resourced in the world. And yet Houston remains a hub of human trafficking, home to countless unreached people groups, and the growing income disparity is impossible to deny. That’s not to say that the church is at fault. But we can do more. We have to do more. And we have tried it as individuals, but for as many churches as we have, we haven’t yet witnessed gospel saturation or community transformation.
We believe churches working together are better, smarter, and more effective than churches working in isolation. We believe that no matter how effective a church is at a single thing, there are countless things that a church can’t be effective at. It’s almost as if God designed believers to work as a collective body of various talents and gifts. Churches work in the same way. No matter how effective the best knees are, they’ll never be elbows, and the best eyes will never allow a body to hear music. No single church can do everything that is required to reach the city, and no one is asking it to. In fact, the association exists to relieve the pressure on churches to try and be all things in all areas of town, which is simply impossible. It’s going to take all churches working together to ensure that the gospel is heard in over 220 languages, across 350 people groups, and in thousands of socio-cultural expressions.
We love churches.
Not everyone can work for an association as vast as ours, because if I were to ask them, “Do you love churches?” they would gladly answer in the affirmative while thinking only of their own church. On any given week in UBA, you might attend a worship service in more than 20 different languages, utilize extremely traditional hymns or hear hip-hop being pumped out, be dressed in formal attire or extremely casual, and meet in all types of facilities including homes, prison wards, strip centers, and hotels.
The churches that collectively form the network known as UBA must love other churches; otherwise, why associate with them? The staff that works on behalf of those churches must love churches, all types of churches; otherwise, it’s impossible to do our job.
And when I say we love, churches, I don’t just mean the ones we have. I mean the ones we don’t know yet and the ones that haven’t been born yet. We love planting churches, supporting churches, helping to replant churches, and in extreme cases helping churches finish with grace and significance. We love churches so much that we made an investment in the idea. We bought the website:
We don’t even know what we’re going to do with the idea yet. But when the staff was at a retreat recently, we were talking about these core convictions that get us going and we kept coming around to this. A few minutes later, Keelan said to the team, “I can’t believe no one owns that website.” Well, now we do. Because it’s true. We love churches. We’ll figure out what to do with it later. The core conviction remains the same.
We believe relationships are our core business
Throughout the listening sessions that we held all over Houston, attendees were quick to point out that the strength of the association is the interpersonal bonds between people. Some expressed those as relationships between senior pastors that formed decades ago in Young Leaders or Leaders Edge. Others have built those bonds recently through smaller cohorts. Some expressed those relationships between ministers and individual UBA staff members. But one way or another, and regardless of how effective, professional, or innovative a service might be that UBA provides, the platform our association offers for building relationships seemed to be its most noteworthy contribution.
In one sense, the association is one big partnership, and in another, it is a network of smaller partnerships. The UBA staff is still dreaming and thinking about ways to be more proactive in building relationships with churches and between churches, but hear my heart: we want to be proactive. We’re going to try and know as much as we can and as many people as we can so we can connect as many people as we can. More on this concept in future blogs.
But beyond proactive relationship building for the sake of collaborative action, the staff of UBA knows that relationships earn us the right to walk alongside our churches and speak into their ministries. The relationships we have with our churches are how churches can gauge whether they can trust our counsel and our advice. And while it doesn’t happen often, it might surprise you how necessary it is for pastors and staff to have someone they can call who is outside of the church but not outside of ministry to just listen. Everything comes down to relationships.
These days, I wake up overwhelmed because God called an introverted guy like me to foster and support a vast relational network like UBA. I covet your prayers for me, and I encourage you to follow us on Twitter and Facebook as we pray for a variety of things together. If you see something helpful, please share it. #UBAPraysTogether
Josh Ellis is Executive Director of Union Baptist Association. He has a PhD in Leadership Studies and has served on the UBA staff since 2005. With both practical and scholarly knowledge, he leads the association into innovative collaboration for the sake of strategic gospel advancement.