Southern Religion

Southern Baptist #GCR lacks local flavor

Recent critiques of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) progress report are raising serious doubts about the effort as discussion focuses on the need to revitalize local churches.

The report has been discussed, debated and analyzed since it was released in February. The task force continues to work with plans to release a final report in May that will be voted on at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June.

The initial progress report included a proposal to add new terminology to SBC funding efforts that drew an official response from a state convention and questions from a state editor and others. Some observers said a plan to end cooperative agreements between the North American Mission Board and state conventions amounted to a death sentence for smaller state organizations. Other issues were raised as well.

Alan Quigley, pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Greenwood, S.C., says in effect that the GCRTF is a rhetorical trap:

I would not want to risk being on the side of failure to reach the world with the gospel; therefore the only option the report gives me is to accept it hook, line and sinker. However, the problem I have is, it’s a rotten strategy wrapped in sumptuous rhetoric that will make everyone sick.

John Elam, director of missions for the Northwestern Baptist Association in Woodward, Okla., calls the GCRTF proposals “denominational tinkering” In a post at MissioScapes, he writes:

I was one who hoped the strong words of Danny Akin in his axiom sermon would start a movement in the SBC toward gospel-centered, Christ-exalting ministry. I had hopes to see a movement toward participating truly in the Great Commission by living out the Great Commandment. I had hopes that leaders would rise up and point our convention of churches toward Christ, His commands and His commission with great humility and great zeal. I still hold some hope…but it is fading.

Elam notes the difference between the opening discussion in the task force’s report, which calls for “a renewed emphasis on the local church,” and the recommendations themselves, which “seem to be primarily concerned with the top level of cooperative life in the SBC.”

Alan Cross, pastor of Gateway Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., asserted on his Downshore Drift blog that the task force should “start their thinking with the local church in mind.” In a view shared by others who take issue with the report’s top-down approach, Cross says the task force members “got things backwards.”

“If they had started with the local church and worked their way up, they would be in a much better spot right now,” he said. “But, they went the way that the SBC has been going for the last 60 years and they took a top-down approach.”

Cross offers 10 “concrete proposals” on how to have a “real” Great Commission Resurgence. He says the plan should start with churches that are willing and working effectively:

The GCRTF will say that they cannot mandate anything to the local church. That is true. But, NAMB is autonomous as well, and that hasn’t stopped them from completely reorganizing NAMB in their recommendations. If the GCRTF used their SBC-given platform to put forward a plan like this, many local associations and state conventions would pick it up and begin to do it.

Paul Littleton, pastor of the Faith Baptist Church in Sapulpa, Okla., says the church can be the greatest potential weakness or strength.

This is where we Baptists face our greatest challenge. Our greatest challenge is not figuring out how we will turn NAMB into something we can finally be proud of. It is not in revamping the IMB or revitalizing (or doing away with) the ERLC. Our greatest challenge is in figuring out how we can move a significant number of our 45,000 churches from conflicted, inbred, inwardly focused, self-serving and self-preserving social gatherings to loving, reaching, kingdom-focused, other-serving, world-preserving outposts alive with and for the mission of God. I’m not saying all of our churches are that way. Many are.

Littleton suggests that task force member pour their “considerable influence” into their churches and other churches.

“If the local church really is where it all begins and ends, then give us something tangible in your recommendations for the local church,” he said. “If you’re going to recommend the restructuring of entities then gear the restructuring to best assist the local church.”

Cross said the problem in the SBC is not primarily a funding crisis, but is instead a “vision crisis.”

Every local church has to go it alone. What if we partnered and networked a bit? What if the entities of the SBC lined up BEHIND the local church and helped us? What if the church really did become the frontlines of SBC mission work and every member of every SBC church was considered a missionary because they were directly engaging in the mission of God? What if we flipped everything around?

Can the task force write a report that will start such a turnaround? Doubtful. A good beginning will be careful consideration of suggestions from local leaders who minister in areas where any great commitment to the Great Commission will begin.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Churches, SBC | | Comments Off on Southern Baptist #GCR lacks local flavor

Missouri joins opponents to the Southern Baptist Convention GCR proposals

Posted by SteveDeVane at 7:31 AM

Another Southern Baptist state convention executive opposes the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s progress report recommendations.

David Tolliver, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, told staff members that the organization would be “devastated” if the report’s proposals were adopted.

The task force released the progress report in February, but continues to work. It plans to release its final report in May, with a vote expected at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June.

The Georgia Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee asked the task force to reconsider one part of the report. Others, including the editor of a state Baptist paper, have also questioned the proposal.

Some think adoption of report recommendations would kill smaller state conventions. Numerous issues have been raised about various parts of the report. Some see the task force’s approach as a recipe for disaster.

Tolliver said the Missouri convention would lose $720,000 plus other cuts and called for a cost analysis of the GCR proposals. He said he agreed with three of the six components of the task force report but opposed the others.

Opposition is clearly growing as state convention by state convention implications are calculated.

March 30, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , | 1 Comment

It’s official: States don’t like the GCR report

Opposition to the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s progress report has become official. The Georgia Baptist Convention‘s Executive Committee voted to ask the task force to reconsider part of the document.

The head of another state convention said the report broke his heart.

The task force report affirms the Cooperative Program – Southern Baptists’ traditional method of collecting funds. State conventions collect CP funds from churches, keeping part and passing the rest on to the Southern Baptist Convention.

The GCR report also calls for a new category of giving called “Great Commission Giving” that would include CP, plus designated offerings to Southern Baptist, state convention and association causes.

The proposal has already been questioned by a Baptist editor, a pastor and a denominational expert.

David Lee, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, said in a Baptist Press article that he is concerned that the new giving category will not enhance financial support.

“What this new proposal suggests is tantamount to the local church saying to members, ‘We would like for you to give to the general fund, but if you had rather designate your tithe for the pastor’s salary or the student ministry or to buy a new bus, that will be OK,'” Lee wrote. “I fear that this new designation has more to do with making some of us feel better about how we already do things than it does about calling us to a higher level of stewardship and missions commitment.”

The Georgia convention Executive Committee asked the task force to reconsider and clarify:

The wide application of the phrase ‘Great Commission Giving’ for monies given through the Cooperative Program as well as to designated causes may cause some Baptists to surmise wrongly that the Cooperative Program is merely a subset of giving instead of the primary means of missions giving for Southern Baptists. A reconsideration of terminology may bring clarity to the GCRTF’s desire to keep the Cooperative Program as the central means of support for Great Commission ministries, while still acknowledging the important role that designated gifts play in mission support.

The Georgia convention’s statement says it wants the task force to “formally encourage and challenge local churches specifically to increase their support and sacrificial giving through the Cooperative Program.”

J. Robert White, the executive director of the Georgia convention, is a member of the task force and talked about the Great Commission Giving when the group gave its report.

White promised Executive Committee members that he would “represent their sentiments as effectively as possible at the group’s next meeting on April 26 in Nashville,” according to the Index. In an earlier interview with the paper, White said that there is a “critical” need for Southern Baptists to recognize the need for Great Commission Giving.

“The time for unity is here. Let’s unite under the theme of ‘Great Commission Giving.’ Let’s do it for our missionaries. Let’s do it for our ministries. Let’s do it for our Jesus Who commanded that we take the Gospel to the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

White also said some feared the new designation would lead SBC entities to solicit funds directly from churches, which would violate the SBC Executive Committee’s business and finance plan.

“It is absolutely essential that the boards of trustees of our entities exercise strict control over their entities to see that direct solicitation among our churches does not happen. Such solicitation is a direct threat to the very existence of the Cooperative Program.”

The question is how many churches will decrease their CP giving because of the new terminology, even without solicitation. The church of the only announced candidate for SBC president didn’t need solicitation. Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., has cut its CP giving from 10 percent to 3.5 percent, the Index reported.

The church’s pastor, Bryant Wright is running for president. The Index outlined the church’s giving patterns and noted a guest commentary in which Wright called for “a radical reprioritizing of Cooperative Program funds through our state conventions.”

Wright said state conventions which often use more than 60 percent of CP funds, should instead keep no more than 30 percent.

The task force report already calls for the North American Mission Board to end cooperative agreements with state conventions, a move that some say will kill smaller state conventions. The states would lose more than $50 million if the agreements end.

“One of the key elements missing from this report is what has been the marquee of Southern Baptist success in doing missions — cooperation,” Lee said. “Despite the call for unity, this new strategy will in essence pit the national SBC entities against state conventions and local associations, making us compete for resources.”

Replacing the Cooperative Program with any type of competitive program will bring about an official desurgence.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , | Comments Off on It’s official: States don’t like the GCR report

I can see clearly now … [through the GCRTF fog] … Or not

Annual % change in SBC membership

Annual % change in SBC membership 1950-2007

By SteveDeVane

A March 16 conference call clarified the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) progress report, which outlined a proposal which is intended to revive the declining SBC. A hotly debated proposal [1, 2]. And issues remain.

According to task force members on the call, if the GCRTF recommendations are adopted:

  • The North American Mission Board will still partner with arguably threatened state conventions and associations, but NAMB will guide the strategy.
  • State conventions and associations can still receive funds from NAMB, but the national group will prioritize where the money goes.
  • Existing North American missionaries can keep their positions, but only if they are willing to emphasize church planting.

Discussion focused how the recommendation would affect local groups of churches and less on issues which have recently occasioned heated comment. Nor did the group discuss a serious statistical error which distorted the report’s recommendations — miscounting which produced the shocking, wrong, finding that most NAMB missionaries are deployed in the Old South where the SBC dominates the religious landscape.

Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the SBC task force, said he regrets that some think the group’s report calls for a “top-down” approach. But, he said, the task force remains committed to the SBC’s North American Mission Board (NAMB) “to become the leader, guiding us with a strategy toward reaching North America.”

Floyd said NAMB will continue to work with state conventions, associations and churches, but that partnership might look different. The progress report calls for an end to cooperative agreements between NAMB and state conventions, a move that may kill some smaller state conventions.

“We are not trying to create a North American Mission Board that is operating in and of itself. The North American Mission Board can do nothing apart from local churches and can do little apart from the associations and the state conventions,” he said. “We need each other.”

Floyd said the concept of cooperative agreements will remain, but they might be called something different.

“Obviously there will be some kind of commitment toward partnerships,” he said.

Floyd said the task force believes there needs to be an “overall national strategy” to “penetrate the lostness” of North America.

Bobby Gilstrap, head of communications for the Network of Baptist Associations, said such a strategy sounds as if it would be implemented “across the board.” He asked whether it should be developed in the field, to better meet the overarching objectives of the NAMB.

Floyd agreed, but said NAMB should be to North America as IMB is the “guiding strategist for reaching the world.”

Regarding funding issues that smaller conventions might face, Floyd said he couldn’t speak for the task force, but:

“I foresee personally that in many of these areas these strategies will continue as long as those people are connected to a strategy to penetrate lostness and there is a beginning time and ending time to that partnership, which is exactly what happens right now in relationship to cooperative agreements. But again it is all going to depend on how and who is there to penetrate the lostness of our nation.”

Task force member Jim Richards, head of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said there are limited resources. The prioritization of those resources falls to the NAMB and the SBC and relates to the association’s strategy, he said.

Richards, who also said he couldn’t speak for the task force, said he is a strong advocate of cooperative agreements with state conventions and associations in strategies “so that we won’t walk on each other, so we can accomplish more by coordinating our efforts.” He said such agreements are “absolutely essential.”

“Now cooperative agreement and cooperative budgeting are two different things. Obviously the cooperative budgeting aspect of it would have to be done on those projects and efforts and strategies and events and goals and long-term and short-term measurable results that would advance the kingdom and carry out the Great Commission at its highest, maximum investment. I think that has to be done among partners.”

The association, the state convention, NAMB and IMB would want to enter into such agreements, he said.

Richards said he thinks it would be “foolish” to bring in new people into areas where people are gifted and skilled and have passion as long as they are “willing to transition to prioritize their efforts and energy to carry out church planting as the number one emphasis in their job description.”

Richards said local associations will be the “point of the spear” for the Great Commission since churches are the “focal point.” As such, he said associations have a “vital and important role to play” in the future.

Floyd responded to a question about perceptions that the task force’s efforts were politically motivated. He said no one in the group wants to hurt anybody, and the members were learning that others are committed to the Great Commission but differ over how to accomplish it.

Floyd said “process always precedes product,” and different processes are required to get different products.

“Some of the processes in the SBC need to be addressed,” he said.

Floyd said choices in the SBC are not “good versus evil,” but “good versus what’s best.”

Task force member David Dockery said the group is primarily casting a vision for how Southern Baptists can fulfill the Great Commission through a renewed commitment to collaboration and cooperation, he said. National, state and local leaders will be responsible for carrying it out, he said.

Floyd said many young pastors have said they loved the progress report because it presented a vision for church planting and penetrate lostness.

“It’s all about the local church. That’s what they understand. They understand that. If we’ll just stay there and take them where they are and have a broad enough entry point into the ministry of this denomination to receive them in love in a way that would honor the Lord and honor biblical truth, listen man they can help in a tremendous way.”

Floyd said that many young Baptist pastors say that if the GCR report passes, the SBC might attract those who have disengaged or who have never been involved with a denomination.

Whether young ministers would indeed be attracted by the change, or whether the SBC will embrace the recommendations at the 2010 annual meeting, June 15-16 in Orlando, Fla., is not at all clear. There is, however, room for revision. The GCRTF recommendations to the SBC have not been set in a final report.

March 17, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , | 2 Comments

GCRTF aims for unity & provokes division

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) said it wanted to unite Southern Baptists. Instead, high-profile quarrels have broken out over last month’s progress report and skepticism appears to be taking hold.

Issues within the SBC

What The Nashville Tennessean called a “rare public feud” erupted between “conservative leaders” of the SBC “over how to spend money and set priorities in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.” International Mission Board president Jerry Rankin took aim at SBC Executive Committee president Morris Chapman.

Chapman told state convention executives on Feb. 10, “Cooperation is foundational in everything we do jointly as believers.” Rankin responded by accusing him of putting cooperation above the Great Commission. Rankin wrote:

Apparently it doesn’t matter whether we impact a lost world or accomplish anything else as long as we cooperate together. In fact, it was said that the formula for Cooperative Program allocations must not change. I now understand why for 17 years I and my staff have been meeting with the budget workgroup of the Executive Committee, presenting our required report on funding needs, but nothing is ever done. It is just a meaningless exercise of denominational bureaucracy.

Chapman reacted, telling Baptist Press:

I am saddened that Jerry so blatantly misrepresented my comments. The men who heard me speak know what I said, what I think of Christ and His commands, and where I think cooperation falls in any list of priorities. I would never say that cooperation is the purpose of our Convention. It is only a means to an end — to assist Southern Baptists in working together for the common purpose of furthering the Kingdom of God.

Rankin went on to say that he has become exasperated because of “difficulty in nailing down the purpose of what is being done” while working with other groups within the SBC:

“On Mission Celebrations, which used to be World Mission Conferences, is a mission event hosted by local associations. IMB, NAMB, WMU and State Conventions all send personnel to speak in the churches, report on what we are all doing in missions, supposedly to enhance mission awareness. Pressing to know if there is an outcome that is supposed to result from this event, I am usually told that the event is an end in itself. Nothing is done that actually enlists and equips the church for missions involvement once the week is over.

Rakin later apologized (via his blog) to Chapman.

Cooperative Program issues

Chapman’s statements to the state executives highlight another strain of disagreement concerning the GCR Task Force report. This one is over Cooperative Program (CP): Southern Baptists’ traditional method of funding. Churches send money to state conventions, which keep a portion, and send the rest to the SBC. Thus “cooperating.”

Norman Jameson, editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder took issue with the report’s suggestion to add the term “Great Commission Giving” to Southern Baptist funding. “Great Commission Giving” would include CP and designated giving to other Southern Baptist causes.

“When the average CP giving of task force member churches is less than five percent, the report’s recommendation to ‘reaffirm the Cooperative Program as our central means of supporting Great Commission ministries’ rings hollow,” he said.

Chapman suggested that CP funding be split evenly between state conventions and the SBC. Where as now, according to the GCR task force report, states keep an average of 63.45 percent of CP funds.

“Any proportion other than 50-50 comes with an inescapable perception of greater importance for one side of the equation and less importance for the other,” Chapman said.

The task force interim report doesn’t call for that specific change. It does say, “When churches give more through the Cooperative Program and state conventions keep less of it within their respective states, and a compelling unified Gospel vision is cast for Southern Baptists, we will see giving through the Cooperative Program increase in a major way.”

State convention issues

The report also calls for the SBC’s North American Mission Board to end cooperative agreements that send more than $50 million to state conventions.

In summary then, task force called for states to send a larger percentage of money to the SBC and to get by without money NAMB sends back to them through the cooperative agreements. That’s two losses of revenue in revenue-short times.

Some believe the proposals would kill some state conventions and that the recommendations represent a top-down strategy that is a recipe for managerial disaster.

In Alabama, state convention leaders say adopting the recommendations would “devastate” the state and “change the face of evangelism” there.

Gary Swafford, director of the state convention’s associational missions and church planting office, said the proposals would “eliminate major ministries across the state.” Eight positions would have to be cut, convention officials said.

The executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa said ending the cooperative agreements amounted to the SBC “writing us off.”

The state executive, Jimmy Barrentine, said some people seem to have the impression that state conventions, especially ones like his, are putting their own future above the Great Commission.

“The fact is that we are diligently seeking a continued opportunity to collaborate with the North American Mission Board in seeking the fulfillment the Great Commission,” he said. “We want to work with the entire Southern Baptist Convention family, but it is our partnership with the North American Mission Board that seems to be most in peril.

“Before writing us off, releasing NAMB from its cooperative agreement with us, please prayerfully consider the following offers,” Barrentine said before listing several ways his convention would like to continue that partnership (from continuing to work with “Buckets of Hope” to continuing to “partner with NAMB in ministry to appointed missionaries”).

Local church issues

Jim Drake, a pastor in West Virginia, says the task force report “leaves the impression that a handful of ‘significant’ churches must rescue our convention from the malaise left to us by small churches.” He disagrees. Drake started a series of posts on the value of small churches by pointing out eight examples of “kingdom work” that happened in three and a half years he spent at a “country church” in Asheville, N.C.

In the last of eight posts Drake wrote about the GCR report, he said his questions were not “blind defenses of the status quo.” In fact, he added, the mission of the Great Commission is the mission of the local church.

“Insofar as Southern Baptist denominational institutions and entities facilitate and assist that mission, they are extremely beneficial,” he said. “On the other hand, whenever they circumvent or attempt to replace local churches in accomplishing that mission, they are counterproductive, wasteful and potentially destructive.”

F. Russell Bennett, Executive Director Emeritus of the Long Run Baptist Association in Louisville, Ky., asked if some of the report’s proposals are not contrary to its declaration that the local church is “Baptist headquarters.” Bennett also wondered if the some issues in SBC agencies might have resulted from appointments made during times of theological controversy.

“For the past 20 years there have been examples after examples of persons being placed on significant boards without qualification for service except allegiance to a theoretical position,” he said. “If the Task Force wants to improve the agencies of the SBC perhaps they should investigate the fountain head, namely the appointment process.”

The GCRTF isn’t likely to revisit that divisive era. The final report will do well to mine some sense of unity out of the divisions which have erupted over the interim report.

March 16, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , | Comments Off on GCRTF aims for unity & provokes division

New term; less giving?

By Steve DeVane

Some fear that the addition of “Great Commission Giving” to Southern Baptist terminology will disrupt the traditional Southern Baptists way of funding their ministries.

How? The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) recommended a new bundle of giving called “Great Commission Giving.” It would include both the traditional Cooperative Program funds and otherwise designated money sent to SBC causes, state conventions and local associations.

The Cooperative Program (CP) has been the cornerstone of SBC fund collection since 1925. Basically, state conventions collect money from churches. State conventions keep part of the money for state purposes, and send the rest to the SBC.

Norman Jameson, editor of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder, said in an editorial that the work of the SBC is the work of churches cooperatively.

“Changing nomenclature adds not a dollar in effect or motivation to missions,” he said. “But it will have the effect of sticking another drain in the vein of the Cooperative Program, to the demise of ministries North Carolina Baptists have birthed and nurtured for Jesus’ sake.”

Jameson points out that a number of recently elected SBC presidents were pastors of churches who gave less than 4 percent to the CP. He said those churches often give generously to other mission efforts.

“But the work of the Convention is the work of churches working cooperatively,” he said. “When the example is that the cooperative work does not merit support, the result is diminished support.”

Those seeking the SBC presidency “resent when their church’s anemic Cooperative Program giving is cited as evidence of paltry SBC support,” Jameson said.

“The ‘Great Commission Giving’ nomenclature suggested by the task force is a balm for their perceived injury,” he said. “But it is a dressing for disaster as it concerns the Cooperative Program.”

Jameson also mentions CP giving by the churches of the task force member, an issue which also came up earlier.

“When the average CP giving of task force member churches is less than five percent the report’s recommendation to ‘reaffirm the Cooperative Program as our central means of supporting Great Commission ministries’ rings hollow,” he said. “Nothing leads like example.”

Jim Drake, a pastor from West Virginia, said he agrees with the task force’s reaffirmation of CP, but notes that other parts of the report “seem to undermine it.”

“Concerning designated gifts ‘counting’ as CP giving, this seems to be a non-issue for a rural, small-church pastor like me,” he said. “The fact that my church’s contributions to a local food bank, a crisis pregnancy center and a Bible in the Schools program don’t ‘count’ toward our 15% CP giving bears no impact on the furtherance of the Gospel.”

George Bullard has consulted with 50 different denominations and currently serves as general secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance. He talks about the task force proposal to add Great Commission giving in several of his 30 observations about the group’s progress report.

“What a step towards the death of the Cooperative Program,” he said “What an accommodation to leaders and congregations who lack a core commitment to the Cooperative Program.”

Bullard said it’s inconsistent for the task force to want people to give 10 percent of their income to undesignated church causes, but not call for churches to do the same for the denomination.

Bullard said he has advocated for nearly 20 years that denominations should have as many as 12 funding streams around one foundational stream. But the task force’s strategy comes at such an effort from a position of weakness, he said, since it accommodates those who don’t support CP.

“They now want a category that will make them look good,” Bullard said. “It is not as altruistic and cutting edge as it sounds. It is a compromise.”

Ronnie Floyd, the chairman of the task force, sought to “bring greater clarity” to the issue with a post on his blog. The 374-word article reaffirms four times the CP, mentions three times that CP has priority, and twice each that it is primary and preferred, and also adds that CP is central and ultimate.

The Cooperative Program’s importance is clear. Not the necessity of performing surgery on it.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , | Comments Off on New term; less giving?

Top-down GCR strategy = recipe for disaster

By Steve DeVane

In theory the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the more than 40 Baptist state conventions to which it relates are all autonomous. They cooperate with each other voluntarily.

In practice, however, connections between the SBC and the state conventions vary. In general, smaller state conventions with fewer resources rely more on the SBC. Larger, usually older, state conventions depend less on the national group.

A recent progress report by the SBC’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) calls for considerable loosening of those ties and a centralization of control in the SBC’s North American Mission Board.

The GCRTF report calls for an end to cooperative agreements between NAMB and state conventions. Some believe eliminating the agreements will kill some state conventions.

Glen Land has more than 30 years’ experience working in “pioneer” areas, places of Southern Baptist work generally outside the south. He describes how ending the cooperative agreements and other GCRTF proposals would negatively impact those regions in an article posted on the Network of Baptist Associations web site. Other views can be found on the network’s blog.

Land, whose position as missions director for the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention was eliminated in December because of a budget crisis, describes how the cooperative agreements work. Each state convention agrees to contribute a percentage to missionary positions with NAMB providing as much as 80 or 90 percent in smaller conventions.

“But given the small number and size of churches in the new conventions, it can be an enormous challenge for these conventions to come up with even a modest matching amount,” he said. “It is not uncommon for newer conventions to be unable to access all of the money offered by NAMB in a given year due to their inability to match those funds.”

Land takes issue with six parts of the task force proposal, including the insistence that NAMB must lead.

“This reinforces the philosophy of a top-down approach to strategy planning, and implies that the past failure of this approach was because it was not done rigorously enough,” he said. “I would argue the opposite is closer to the truth.”

If the cooperative agreements end, smaller state conventions could not adjust their budgets “to avoid massive terminations of mission personnel,” Land said.

“State conventions would be reduced to skeleton staffs and associations in new convention areas would either cease to exist or would be left with volunteer or part-time leadership,” he said.

Land also foresaw catastrophe in a task force recommendation that all future funding by NAMB be “project-driven.”

“These projects must be driven by NAMB’s strategy and fulfill NAMB’s priorities,” Land said. “Once again, these means that NAMB will be sole arbiter of strategy. I regard this as a recipe for disaster.”

Todd Littleton, pastor of Snow Hill Baptist Church in Tuttle, Okla., compared the plan to end cooperative agreements to Uncle Sam’s bailout of GM.

“Can it be we are really witnessing a State’s Rights debate in the SBC? At heart, the back and forth between the State Conventions and the GCRTF seems quite a bit like the flap over a ‘Blue Ribbon Commission‘ and the Federal Government.”

Littleton said the SBC structure has become “calcified.” The GCR Task Force looked at “discretionary spending,” he said.

“When I type ‘discretionary,’ what I mean is that our funding formulas only give a small percentage to the (SBC’s Executive Committee) to manage,” he said. “It is grand naivete to think our entities could not manage their economies better.”

The task force report calls for NAMB to keep $50 million that it sends to state conventions.

Regarding the state conventions, Littleton said, “Here is a new thought for some of you who want to harangue State Execs, ‘Do you really think any of our entities and the EC will manage their resources differently [read, better] if they get more money?’ You see this is thinking that we can bail out GM with more money but no structural changes. This is thinking banks have learned the lesson from the recent economic downturn.”

Littleton noted that the task force report compared 1950 and 2008 in areas other than the amount of money received.

“We want to talk about a lack of growth to correspond with the population explosion,” he said. “Why no mention of the fact we generate more money today than ever in our churches and denomination.”

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of the task force, wrote an article that talks about the cooperative agreements. He said a change is needed because the agreements are “outdated and confusing.”

“When the Great Commission Task Force recommends the phased elimination of these agreements, we are calling for the North American Mission Board to rethink how it should relate to the state conventions so that the mission board retains a more focused ministry of assisting Southern Baptist churches to reach North America,” he said.

Mohler said funds sent from NAMB to state conventions “are allocated and channeled in ways that are difficult to trace, much less to prioritize.”

“We are calling on the North American Mission Board to focus its energies on reaching North America, with a strategic concentration on unreached and underserved people groups, the cities, and the planting of healthy, reproducing churches. There is simply no way that Southern Baptists can be more effective and faithful in this task if we retain the funding mechanisms of the Cooperative Agreements.”

The change does not mean NAMB will abandon “pioneer areas and underserved regions,” Mohler said.

“To the contrary, we are calling for even greater efforts in these areas of our mission and work. But we do not believe that Southern Baptists expect NAMB to be primarily engaged in replicating state convention structures and personnel.”

NAMB will continue to partner with state conventions, according to Mohler.

“But now is the time for a new partnership structure – a structure that liberates NAMB to do its work, while respecting the important work of the state conventions,” he said.

Todd Littleton’s brother, Paul, also a pastor, wrote responded to Mohler. Paul Littleton said most Baptists aren’t aware of the Cooperative Agreements, saying that he didn’t even know about them until reading Mohler’s article.

Paul Littleton notes that the Mohler is, “for all intents and purposes, a life-long denominational employee” and the task force only has “token” representation from the non-mega-churches. As such those in the group view church and denominational life differently than typical Southern Baptist pastors.

“However, Mohler is pretty clear regarding what should replace the old Cooperative Agreements and I can only say that whatever failures there may be with the Cooperative Agreements the proposed solution appears to be far worse than the current problem. For historical purposes it is probably important to note that the NAMB has been perfecting one colossal disaster after another for quite some time now and it has resulted in the firing of the two most recent Presidents of that entity.”

Paul Littleton says the task force recommendations for NAMB would have the SBC acting more than a denomination than a convention of churches.

“And that’s what is totally absent from this proposal. The local church,” he said.

As Paul Littleton suggested, the GCRTF plan is, in effect, upside down. He wrote:

I just know that Southern Baptist’s strength has historically resided in the local church and I know that this proposal moves us away from our strength. I also agree with the many voices who say that if the Southern Baptist Convention is going to have a true Great Commission Resurgence it will have to come firmly at the level of the local church. This proposal has nothing to do with the local church and by extension, I believe, will have little if any positive impact on a Great Commission Resurgence among us.

March 4, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , , | 3 Comments

How to kill a state convention in four years [Update]

Posted by SteveDeVane at 10:11 PM

A recommendation in the Southern Baptist Convention‘s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force progress report would be a “death sentence” for some state Baptist conventions and harm others, a state executive said.

Others have also raised concerns about a proposal that would end cooperative agreements between the North American Mission Board contributions and state conventions over four years. The move would cut $50.6 million that NAMB sends to state conventions each year.

Joseph Bunce, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, said in an article for Baptist Press that some parts of the report concern him.

“I would rather not take my concerns item-by-item at this point, but highlight one area that, if the report is adopted as-is, would create a huge dilemma for our state convention and dismantle other Western state conventions,” he said.

Bunce points out that once the cooperative agreements end, missionaries that have been jointly funded by NAMB and state conventions would come under the direct supervision of NAMB, rather than the state conventions as they have historically.

“This is huge for New Mexico and is a death sentence for other Western state conventions,” he said. “For example, if jointly funded missionaries were removed from the Wyoming Convention staff, only one out of the eight people serving in their leadership could be supported by the Wyoming Convention.”

According to the 2010 NAMB Ministry Report, 3,666 of the 5,304 NAMB missionaries operate “under various levels of cooperative funding with state conventions and local associations.”

Bunce noted that the report calls for states to adjust their budgets, which would reduce the amount forwarded to the SBC.

“I find it very difficult to understand this logic, as state conventions have been chided for not sending on more gifts for work outside their respective states,” Bunce said. “Now we are told to keep more dollars in-state to pay for our own staffs, rather than have jointly funded missionaries.”

The progress report said, “When churches give more through the Cooperative Program and state conventions keep less of it within their respective states, and a compelling unified Gospel vision is cast for Southern Baptists, we will see giving through the Cooperative Program increase in a major way.”

Bunce pointed out that the report is not final. And Tim Patterson, chairman of the NAMB trustees, told Baptist Press that the GCR task force is leaving the particulars of implementing the plan to NAMB’s trustees. He said NAMB will still work under cooperative agreements and will still work with state conventions as highly valued partners.

“The states will absolutely take on a greater role than ever before,” Patterson said. “Their responsibilities will increase as NAMB becomes much more of a facilitator than a program provider.”

But the progress report says that any future partnerships involving financial support, would be “project-driven, meaning these projects must be driven by the North American missional strategy and fulfill the direct mission and priorities of the North American Mission Board. Additionally, any funding must be streamlined, since the North American Mission Board will become the leader in reaching North America.”

Jim Drake, pastor of Brushfork Baptist Church in Bluefield, West Va., wrote in a blog post about the possibility that NAMB would stop sending money to state conventions.

“I wonder how this will impact small conventions like West Virginia’s,” he said. “My initial impression is that support will continue, but with far less state autonomy.”

George Bullard, who has consulted with 50 different denominations, said in one of 20 observations he made about the report that he thinks the state conventions will “manage their budgets accordingly” as the report suggests when they lose national cooperative agreement funds.

“They will adjust Cooperative Program percentage to replace what they feel is essential,” he said.

Bullard said that he agrees the cooperative agreement system needs revision.

“But, it does not need eliminating,” he said.

Even worse, eliminating the program would eliminate some state conventions.


Scott Brewer is president of the 425-church Northwest Baptist Convention. He wrote that money the Northwest convention would stand to lose from NAMB is a large part of the convention’s budget. Brewer, whose convention consists of Washington, Oregon and northern Idaho, said:

Obviously this raises questions about the future of state conventions that exist outside of the South. I’m not sure how a large southern state convention would be impacted by this but our convention would be radically impacted.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | Religion, SBC | , | Comments Off on How to kill a state convention in four years [Update]

Farewell NAMB/IMB merger

Merger of the big, troubled North American Mission Board (NAMB) with the big, troubled International Mission Board (IMB) is apparently off the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) drawing boards.

Thus spake the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) Chairman Ronnie Floyd in a speech Monday at a Florida pastor’s conference. Although SBC President Johnny Hunt once called stories reporting the possibility of such a merger “ludicrous,” Floyd confessed:

There was great, great, great discussion studying, planning and even to the point of having strategic formation of the possibility of the other. But we just really sensed in our heart that wasn’t right at this time.

“Sensed” presumably means heard the uproar set off by the GCRTF’s fog-enshrouded considerations of merger and objection by SBC elder statesman Duke K. McCall and others to the further concentration of SBC executive authority such a merger would entail.

February 3, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , , , | Comments Off on Farewell NAMB/IMB merger

Needed: Straight GCR answers

A story in the Florida Baptist Witness begins by trumpeting that “no question was turned down” during a dialogue Aug. 26 between four members of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and 400 people attending a luncheon. But a careful reading of the article reveals sticky issues that weren’t adequately answered.

The first issue focused on is loyalty to the Cooperative Program (CP) — the SBC’s method of distributing money. Churches send money to state Baptist conventions, which keep a share and send the rest to the SBC.

Many Southern Baptists, especially older church-goers, regard the CP as nearly sacred.

Many younger Baptists, however, have much less denominational loyalty and question why they should support the SBC.

Complicating the issue are the amounts sent to the CP by the churches of those who serve on the task force. Several questioners, according to the Witness article, said it sent a “mixed signal” when task force members’ churches do not contribute at an average level of CP giving.

Baptist Press, the official news agency of the SBC, detailed the percentage of undesignated funds in commission member church budgets that is sent to the CP.

Three of the commissioners’ churches were not reported.

Out of the remaining 20, BP reported that 14 sent less than five percent to the CP and seven sent 2.5 percent or less. Only three of the 20 sent more than 10 percent, although two others were close — 9.9 percent and 9.8 percent respectively. Another was 9.4 percent.

The highest was 18.3 percent.

SBC president Johnny Hunt, who appointed the task force as required by a directive from messengers at the SBC annual meeting in June, and who also serves on the commission, responded to a question about CP giving. Hunt — whose church gave 2.5 percent of its $17.45 million in undesignated receipts to CP — said his church had given a total of $3.6 million to “Southern Baptist causes.”

“But it’s not Cooperative Program missions,” responded Jim Wilson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Seneca, Mo., who asked the question.

Al Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. and a member of the task force, appealed for local churches to exercise their autonomy in deciding how best to deliver mission dollars to the field.

“Quite frankly, our church could care less about how folks outside count our loyalty,” he said, discounting attempts to quantify a church’s commitment to missions by citing its gifts to the traditional Cooperative Program funding mechanism. “It’s a game the next generation is sick of and they have no desire to have that kind of loyalty pin. We’d better wake up and listen to that,” he said.

Hunt hinted
that he might be interested in changing the formula for division of CP funds between international and national missions efforts. He said he wants to “get the dollars to the pockets of lostness, instead of the majority staying in the States or in the country we’re in.”

The task force is reportedly reviewing an analysis showing the denomination spends per capita 33 times more for missions in North America than it does for the rest of the world.

But the most disturbing revelation in the article lay in the way the panelists answered questions. In response to a question about some task force members’ ties to a controversial pastor who is admired by some younger pastors, a seminary president said he was glad his students didn’t hear it and called for the need to “elevate the discussion.”

Worse, Hunt showed a propensity to answer questions by asking a question in return. Two questioners called for greater representation from smaller churches.

For example, according the BP profile, 16 of the 23 members attend churches with an average worship attendance of more than 2,000. While only two have an average worship attendance of less than 200.

Hunt’s response when asked about that: “Does it matter the size church you serve or does it still matter where you’ve been?”

When someone asked about a rumor that the task force’s plan would “deemphasize church planting and evangelism in America,” Hunt said, “An even greater question is who is addressing the poor journalism that would allow reporting that we may be attempting to disassemble NAMB. When there is absolutely no quote whatsoever to go with that. It’s ludicrous.”

Further pressed, he eventually issued a clear denial that there had been any consideration of merger.

These responses, coupled with the task force’s decision to meet behind closed doors, did little to raise the confidence level among those in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

A group that could call for a major restructuring of the convention can expect skepticism in response to a pose which in effect says, “Trust us. We know what we’re doing.”

September 1, 2009 Posted by | Religion, SBC | , | 2 Comments