Southern Religion

Puddle-wonderful, partial GC Resurgence report coming in February, maybe

Breathlessly optimistic Great Commission Resurgence task force chairman Ronnie Floyd said after the group’s Nov. 30-Dec. 1 meeting in Atlanta:

“We made great, enormous progress today,” Floyd told Baptist Press after adjourning the meeting. “We’re wrestling; we’re going through it. But the group has been great. Yesterday and today we ended with tremendous oneness, tremendous togetherness.”

. . .

Task force members engaged in “a lot of open dialogue” during their meeting, Floyd said.
“It was lively but never in the wrong spirit, by any means,” Floyd said. “It’s all about passion. There’s passion about touching this nation. We want to reach North America for Christ; we want to see the world come to Christ. We believe God has given us the commission – to our churches – and our convention’s role is to come alongside our churches to help them fulfill the Great Commission that was given to the churches. We want to see our convention serve our churches in a greater capacity, to help them do the commission Jesus has given them.”

The issues before the task force are serious but not a matter of “good versus bad,” Floyd added.

A substantial report, presumably one as rich in bafflegab as Floyd’s interview, is to be presented to the Feb. 22-23 Executive Committee meeting in Nashville. Maybe. Perhaps. Well, Floyd said that “Our goal would be to get what I would call the body of the report — the things that would require cooperation and understanding of why we are doing what we want to do and this is what we want to do and how do we get there.”

Thus it was written in the South Carolina Baptist Courier.

Oh, goody gumdrops?

December 8, 2009 Posted by | Religion, SBC | , , | Comments Off on Puddle-wonderful, partial GC Resurgence report coming in February, maybe

Is IMB taking missionaries in the field and people in the pews for granted?

Former Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board (IMB) member Wade Burleson persuasively argues that the IMB has its cost-cutting strategy upside down.

In a Dec. 2 blog entry A Recommendation to IMB Administrators and Trustees in the Midst of a Financial Shortfall, he reviews the IMB plans to cut as many as 600 missionaries “in 2010 if the current 8% to 10% decline in revenues through the Lottie Moon Offering and Cooperative Program gifts continue.” And make cuts in benefits to those already in the field:

The IMB administration in Richmond has informed all International Service Corp, Journeymen, and Masters missionaries that they will no longer be reimbursed by the IMB for dryers, cell phones, or air conditioning while on the field. These missionaries will be allowed to have heat in the winter, but the IMB will no longer be able to pay for air conditioning. Phones for communication (an essential in foreign countries) will now be paid for by the aforementioned missionaries themselves. Clothes will need to be dried by air or the missionaries will pay the cost for drying their own clothes. This information has not been publicized except through emails sent to the supervisors of the ISC’ers, Journeymen, and Masters affected. It is hoped by Richmond that these cost saving measures among the front-line staff will allow for more missionaries to be appointed in the short term.

The natural consequence of making those cuts without making equivalent cuts back at the home office, where career administrators are well-paid and board members enjoy meetings under unnecessarily privileged circumstances, will be a crash in missionary morale. As a result, he proposes equivalent cuts for board members and among staff in the Richmond, Va., headquarters offices. Along with curtailments in travel and other sensible adjustments.

Reading down his list of recommendations you will come to:

(4). Let the missionaries ON THE FIELD determine the kind of ministry that is needed. Allow for the creation and adoption of reports that count “conversions” and “church planting” in the various countries by reflecting the different cultural and demographic make-ups of those respective countries. We must resist the cookie cutter approach that forces every missionary in every country to do the same thing the same way. Resisting perpetual world-wide reorganization of the IMB (every five years) will save huge amounts of money in the long term.

True, and his passing reference to reports is of much more than passing interest, because this year’s IMB numbers look a lot like previous years’ (padded, inflated, manufactured) numbers. In a Dec. 1 story on the 2008 IMB numbers, the Biblical Recorder reports:

Bershi’s baptism is among the more than 506,000 recorded by the International Mission Board in 2008 — an average of one baptism per minute. Southern Baptist missionaries and their partners also reported starting more than 24,650 new churches last year. (Baptisms were 10.6 percent below the 2007 total; new churches, 8.6 percent below.) Meanwhile, the total number of overseas churches topped 204,000, up from 111,000 just five years ago.

Those are very much like the 2007 numbers, which Burleson found to be essentially made up. On Jan. 2 he wrote:

For example, in the Fast Facts posted on the International Mission Board web site, one reads that 5,551 missionaries were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for 25,497 new church starts in 2007, and 609,968 baptisms.

Burleson explained that "planting" a church is a complex, time-consuming, typically expensive process. Just as the conversion and Christian nurture process which attends baptism is complex and time-consuming.

Yet those IMB numbers suggested that each of the 5,551 missionaries in the field:

  • Plants an average of five new churches per missionary in 2007.
  • Baptises an average of 120 new members per missionary in 2007.

Those numbers defied belief in January, he and some of those who commented on the blog suggested.

The most recent numbers are little changed, you can see from the table below. Absent compelling explanation with documented answers to the questions raised in January, the latest figures are also difficult to accept.

Year 2007 2008
Church Starts 25,497 24,650
Baptisms 609,968 506,000
Missionaries 5,551 5,512

Read January’s Inflated and fabricated Southern Baptist Mission numbers for the full, thorough dissection.

Publishing another set of numbers so similar as to be similarly questionable, and doing so without compelling explanation, seems to suggest to the folks in the pews that they are regarded as numbskulls.

Watch. It is they from whom cometh the contributions.

They are as acutely aware of being taken for granted as are the missionaries in the field.

December 2, 2009 Posted by | Religion, SBC | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Is IMB taking missionaries in the field and people in the pews for granted?

Our dollars are great; your percentages are lousy

The Southern Baptist Convention‘s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force continues its pattern of answering questions with language that confuses and frustrates.

Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the task force, answered 12 questions after he spoke at the Illinois Baptist Pastors’ Conference, according to a report in Baptist Press.

Kevin Kerr, president of the Illinois Baptist State Association, asked the first question, according to the report. He wanted to know about the Cooperative Program commitment of churches represented on the task force which average less than 6 percent.

Floyd first deflected the question by saying that he didn’t appoint the task force, but was just asked to chair it. Then he repeated SBC president Johnny Hunt’s preferred answer to questions about CP commitment: “We don’t spend percentages, we spend dollars.”

Floyd then talked of how his church, First Baptist Church of Springdale, Ark., is increasing its gifts to the Cooperative Program 44 percent. That sounds good until you realize that the increase will still leave the church giving about 3 percent of its $14.8 million in undesignated offerings to CP.

Even more revealing is Floyd’s comment later about his belief that a lack of biblical stewardship is one of the underlying problems in the SBC.

“God tells individuals to tithe and honor Him with the first tenth and with offerings, but studies show the average evangelical gives 2.4 percent to all charities. How are we going to change the world with the Gospel when 98 cents of every dollar given stays in the churches and 98 cents of every dollar earned stays in the pocket of the member?”

So Floyd first asks Southern Baptists to ignore the low percentage his church gives to the Cooperative Program, then complains about the low percentage people give in general. Although we spect that the billions of dollars represented by the 2.4 percent evangelicals give to charities spends just like the money Floyd’s church sends to the SBC.

With reasoning like Floyd’s, one can expect the Great Commission desurgence to continue.

November 20, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Religion, SBC | , , , , | 1 Comment

More fog about NAMB’s future

North American Mission Board

Stay in the dark, Southern Baptists.

Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) member Ted Traylor told the Florida Baptist Witness that he “did some serious thinking” about the prospect of simultaneously leading the North American Mission Board (NAMB) presidential search committee.

He of course accepted, thus raising again the keystone question:

Will the troubled NAMB be merged with the troubled International Mission Board?

Traylor acknowledged speculation the GCRTF may recommend merging IMB and NAMB or creating one new mission board to replace the current mission boards, but said, “I also know what is being discussed in the GCR meetings. However, I do not believe it is my place to discuss those things until we come to some solid conclusions.”

We already know SBC chief Johnny Hunt doesn’t want anyone to talk about the fate of the recently troubled and, a well-respected Southern Baptist leader says, misconceived agency. So GCRTF members go on filling the air with fog.


Read the entire story and you will see Traylor either isn’t reading or has decided not to heed Wade Burleson’s warnings against attaching God’s name to our decisions.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Religion, SBC | , , | Comments Off on More fog about NAMB’s future

IMB numbers game

Tony Cartledge of Baptists Today analyzes The IMB numbers game:


Former IMB trustee Wade Burleson began the new year by suggesting that the IMB make a resolution to put some integrity into its numbers. On its website, the IMB cites statistical reports claiming that in 2007, IMB mission efforts resulted in 609,968 baptisms and 25,497 new church starts.

Burleson points out that such numbers would require that each of the IMB’s 5,500 or so missionaries would have to be responsible for five new church starts and about 120 baptisms, and George Frink picked up on that discussion, pointing to an Ethics Daily post from 2005 that cited several international Baptists who dispute the way the IMB takes credit for baptisms and church starts that are unrelated to its work.

Please read it all here.

January 9, 2009 Posted by | Religion | , , , , | Comments Off on IMB numbers game

Inflated and fabricated Southern Baptist mission numbers

Former Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board member Wade Burleson persuasively argues that key mission numbers are inflated and some are fabricated.

In a Jan. 2 blog entry A Proposed New Year’s Resolution for the Southern Baptist Convention: Integrity in Numbers, he writes:

For example, in the Fast Facts posted on the International Mission Board web site, one reads that 5,551 missionaries were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for 25,497 new church starts in 2007, and 609,968 baptisms.

He explains that "planting" a church is a complex, time-consuming, typically expensive process.

Likewise, the conversion and Christian nurture process which attends baptism is also complex and time-consuming.

Yet IMB numbers suggest that each of the 5,551 missionaries in the field:

  • Plants an average of five new churches per missionary in 2007.
  • Baptises an average of 120 new members per missionary in 2007.

The numbers defy belief, he and some of those who commented on the blog suggested, and are not supported by the documenting data required to answer questions like:

“Where do these churches exist?”, “How many people attend?”, “Who pastors them?”, “How many are still in existence?” etc . . .

He reports having inquired:

I have asked some of our SBC missionary personnel to give me the names of those baptized under their care as reported on the Annual Statistical Report – only to be given a blank stare by many. It seems there is no record of either the names of those baptized or churches they attend. The baptism number is simply that – a number.

How are the numbers padded?

. . . all that IMB field missionary personnel have to do is simply say they started a church, and it is recorded as a “new” church start. Or, sometimes, as reported to me by several field missionaries, they report on some excellent Bible study groups they have started, and “presto” – several new churches are born and wind up being reported by their supervisors on the Annual Statistical Report. Or, as has happened in various regions, statistics are given about “new” church starts that have nothing to do with SBC personnel; they have been started by indigenous people groups that have absolutely no connection with SBC personnel in the area.

He bases his views on confidential reports from those in the field:

I have had missionary personnel from different regions in the world write me with concerns about the reporting process and ask “When is somebody going to challenge the numbers?”

His view is supported by comments from Montgomery, AL., pastor Alan Cross, who wrote:

I wrote a similar post on the now defunct SBC Outpost last May. To back up what you are saying, I communicated with missionaries from 4 different regions before writing my post. None of them were connected but they all told the same story. Pressure from superiors (both administration and trustees) had created an environment where numbers were being exaggerated and sometimes fabricated.

Cross also indicated sweeping problems with the reported numbers. He wrote:

There are CPM’s (church planting movements) that have been reported that do not exist presently, or if they ever did, they are not able to be found now. There are church plants that have been reported that do not exist, or if they do, they are totally the work of indigenous believers. The baptism numbers are totally wrong.

They seem to agree about why numbers are being exaggerated and fabricated. As Burleson wrote:

The fault lies with the system we have constructed that puts such an ungodly emphasis on numbers.

Their desire for simple reform is painfully clear.

Such systems are, unfortunately, rarely self-correcting.

January 6, 2009 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Will Baptists help the Women’s Missionary Union?

The fundamentalists vs. moderates theology war tearing apart the Southern Baptist Convention has come to the SBC Women’s Missionary Union as painful retrenchment.

Wade Burleson wrote on Dec. 12:

Day before yesterday, the employees of the Woman’s Missionary Union were called to a meeting to announce difficult but preemptive measures that were being taken due to the economic downturn. The WMU is short two million dollars in revenue. The executive director of the WMU, Wanda Lee, is working very hard to keep all of the WMU’s employees in place, not wanting to lay anyone off. To accomplish this, the employees of the WMU are having to take what amounts to a four week furlough, spread out over an eight month period, without pay.

The problem is as much by design as it is a result of demographic change and the effects of our current economic difficulties.

The theologically moderate WMU refused to come to heel when SBC fundamentalist leadership whistled, so funding has been progressively cut off and sustaining work taken elsewhere in a process which from the outside looks like deliberate destruction of a historically sustaining institution.

The WMU’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the WMU’s Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board, respectively.

In return the WMU until recently received reimbursements from both organizations. But after some maneuvering which included an attempt by the NAMB to strip the WMU of the Lottie Moon trademark, both contributions have been sharply reduced and one is being phased out.

Burleson details the history of WMU sustenance of key Southern Baptist institutions, a part of which was a Great Depression bailout of what was then the Home Mission Board.

He in effect calls for Southern Baptists to come home from the theology wars to their consciences in this matter when he writes:

I imagine the WMU will not publicly wave a flag, asking for Southern Baptists to step into the gap for them. However, in my opinion, this is a true test for those of us identified as Southern Baptists. Will we now turn our backs on WMU when they are at a low point, financially?

In the history of what has been called the SBC conservative resurgence, that apparently would be an unprecedented denominational turnabout.

It is unlikely.

December 12, 2008 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why did the IMB hide embezzlement?

Frink calls attention to a retired insurance broker’s assessment of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s embezzlement coverup:

So .. I was really shocked when I heard about the Gray Harvey case. Not only have I been active in churches for 45 years or so, in the SBC for 27+ years, but I spent 50 years in the Property & Casualty Insurance business, which is the line of business that covers stuff like employees stealing. So I know a bit about that.

For one thing, I doubt that the SBC insured employee theft. If they had, they would have been reimbursed for Mr. Harvey’s theft, and I figure the insurance company would either have collected from the malefactor, or prosecuted. I DON’T figure they’d have let it die a natural, peaceful death.

He makes his view of the IMB trustees who allowed the case to go unprosecuted and took the reported oath of silence quite clear when he says:

If I was somebody like Sam Walton, and this sort of shenanigans had gone on in MY company, I’d fire the lot of them.

We concur, although former IMB trustee Wade Burleson’s attempt to hold them to account earned him a drumbeat of anonymous criticism which implied that Burleson was egolistically damaging missionary efforts, until Burleson responded:

If you are the person who used to work for the board and worked with Gray Harvey, you may also be the person that two people told me was involved in the embezzlement.

Please email at and I will tell you if you are the one identified by two people, in writing, as an accomplice.

In His Grace


Fri Dec 05, 10:04:00 PM 2008


How tangled is the disastrously miswoven web?

December 7, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off on Why did the IMB hide embezzlement?

Mission Board should (finally) do the right thing

The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board (IMB) missed an opportunity to secure its credibility and protect the public when it failed to prosecute an embezzler, who is now accused of insurance fraud in Alabama, and concealed the incident.

We’ll see if the board’s leaders make the same mistake twice.

In 2005, the mission board decided that a judgment ordering Benton Gray Harvey to repay more than $362,000 was sufficient.

According to former IMB member Wade Burleson, the trustees took an oath of secrecy and so managed to keep the issue hidden from the public until news reports revealed investigations into the dealings of Harvey and another man at an insurance company in Alabama.

The IMB’s decision was clearly flawed. But the recent revelation gives it a second chance to make things right.

Here’s what its leaders should do immediately.

  • Release all the information (not otherwise sequestered by law) from its own investigation into Harvey’s handling of mission board money. This should have occurred three years ago.
  • Call on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee to hire an independent firm paid by the mission board to conduct a thorough audit of all board finances, including those handled by Harvey.
  • When the audit is completed, allow the auditors to conduct press conferences and release all their findings. This will show that mission board leaders want all the truth to come out.
  • Release the full mission board budget, including salaries and expenses, and call on other Southern Baptist agencies to do the same. For too long, the salaries of Southern Baptist executives have been hidden from those who contribute the offerings that pay them. It has created the perception, perhaps a correct one, that the executives would be embarrassed if their high salaries were revealed.
  • Reconsider and reevaluate its mission strategy in areas where missionaries are legally not allowed. This complex issue deserves close examination.
  • Repay the insurance company in Alabama for its losses due to Harvey’s activities – activities which timely criminal prosecution by the IMB would arguably have made impossible. The owner of the insurance agency that hired Harvey is trying to repay those he swindled. The mission board should do no less.

These steps will bring the IMB closer to regaining the trust of those who pay its bills through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

December 4, 2008 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , | 1 Comment